Galt's Empty Quarter
August 1, 2019 9:35 PM   Subscribe

"NEOM does not really exist yet, but from descriptions of the plans, it sounds like something a nine-year-old might dream up. There will be robot dinosaurs and robot cage fights. There will be “a genetic-modification project to make people stronger,” and cloud seeding to make it rain in the desert. It will “supplant Silicon Valley in technology, Hollywood in entertainment and the French Riviera as a place to vacation.” The beaches will have “glow-in-the-dark sand.” One prince involved with the project said: “I don’t want any roads or pavements. We are going to have flying cars in 2030!” A giant artificial moon will be raised in the sky each night. (It is unclear why the actual existing moon will not suffice.)" “NEOM” MAY BE OUR FUTURE (Current Affairs) Saudi Arabia’s crown prince turned to U.S. consultants for help imagining a massive new city-state in a barren section of his kingdom (WSJ)
posted by The Whelk (53 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds like the perfect spot for the Corporate Court to be seated until they move to Zurich-Orbital.
posted by demiurge at 9:47 PM on August 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


Will there be a statue of Ozymandias?
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:48 PM on August 1, 2019 [25 favorites]


At this rate in twenty years the entire Gulf region is going to be nothing except failed New Cities.
posted by aramaic at 10:00 PM on August 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


...sorry, I should have said Night Cities.
posted by aramaic at 10:01 PM on August 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


It's amazing to me that after, what? 70 years of speculative fiction of various sorts? that someone living on the planet is actually proposing building a deliberate dystopia and is doing sales pitches to get people to invest in it.

It's like, um... hey, um... like... I've read this story. About 500 times in both novel and short story version. Also, probably an episode of Black Mirror, and if it hasn't been it will be next season.
posted by hippybear at 10:06 PM on August 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


I realize now that 70 years is a ridiculously short number of decades to devote to how people with imaginations have been trying to work out what this kind of place might be like, so extend that back a lot more.
posted by hippybear at 10:08 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Seasteading is so 20th century

SANDSTEADING however
posted by The Whelk at 10:24 PM on August 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


The WSJ piece is fully paywalled, FYI.

But really, per Eggers' A Hologram for the King, compare and contrast King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) with NEOM.

McKinsey details using “big data” – the use of computers to sift through volumes of information – and a “13-pillar liveability framework” to quantify how much people would like living in Neom and objectively prove it’s the world’s most livable place.

There's literally no fresh water for starters. It all comes from desalinization plants.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:24 PM on August 1, 2019 [6 favorites]




As currently planned, Neom will occupy a region the size of Massachusetts. This will include a huge coastal urban sprawl; outlying towns and villages; advance manufacturing hubs in industries like biotech and robotics; and links with international shipping routes. Early building work has already begun, with facilities including a new airport and palace.

KSA rentier state 101: Create some projects and jobs for something that probably won't come to fruition, but provides economic activity that forestalls unrest against your ossifying regime. But don't worry - the worst jobs (the kind that can get you hurt) will be filled by foreign nationals whose passports you can confiscate and hold in case they have something to say about their working conditions.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:39 PM on August 1, 2019 [25 favorites]


Once I borrowed a book on utopias from a friend's mother, I had it for several years before she asked for it back. Anyway, it was very interesting to see how dreams of ideal habitats change over time in wave-like movements. Sometimes it's all technology! hygiene! robots! and sometimes it's all nature! traditions! slow! I guess both things are reactions to aspects of the relentless "progress" we all experience all the time.
But I really find it hard to understand the fascination for places like Dubai or Singapore, which are the real-life incarnations of cities like NEOM. I have friends and relatives who love going there on holiday, don't even notice the authoritarianism, and don't care about the underpaid workers. They enjoy the air-conditioned slickness of the architecture and want it to be reproduced at home. I don't get it, but I really want to understand it.
posted by mumimor at 11:44 PM on August 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Neom will occupy a region the size of Massachusetts.

HA! won't be even close to as groovy and will have no nooks or crannies. Step off, NEOM.
posted by vrakatar at 11:50 PM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Government officials—including MBS, say people who’ve spoken with him recently—have questioned whether the kingdom pays Western consultants more than they’re worth.

I am shocked! Shocked! To find that consulting is going on in here!
posted by chavenet at 12:27 AM on August 2, 2019 [28 favorites]


Megacitous.
posted by Segundus at 1:11 AM on August 2, 2019


If we could get all the rich people to live there that would be very convenient.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:19 AM on August 2, 2019 [11 favorites]


One of my biggest business pimps is directly involved in the project. (Fortunately my nationality precludes me from working for him on this project, since SA hates my people ((this is fortunate because otherwise I’d have to refuse a gig, which might upset my pimp).)

The money involved is staggering. My pimp’s SMALL area of responsibility has a budget of USD 10B. My pimp projects a profit margin greater than 10 percent.

Blowing smoke up the prince’s bottom is a viable path to mega-wealth, apparently.
posted by Construction Concern at 4:42 AM on August 2, 2019 [10 favorites]


I heard about this on Chapo. Sounds like a great way to funnel a bunch of money to construction business owners and wind up with a giant ghost town. So, perfect for our full-grift capitalism times.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:57 AM on August 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


They talk of getting Tesla and Amazon to locate there. Indeed, NEOM might be the perfect city for libertarian tech billionaires, because—like a seastead—it offers them what they really want: a lifeless playground where they are insulated from the proletariat.

Sounds like a great location for the Ultra Platinum Level Gulags.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 5:05 AM on August 2, 2019


It sounds like a variant of the Lynton Crosby dead-cat PR strategy which we have seen before: float something so outlandish that it drowns out any discussion of your more mundane villainy. A bit like actual 21st-century disaster kleptocrat Jacob Rees-Mogg swanning around in Victorian necromancer drag and issuing the occasional memorandum commanding his staff to use archaic English or something.
posted by acb at 5:28 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


I devoutly hope they hire William Gibson to write their brochures.
posted by adamrice at 5:38 AM on August 2, 2019 [8 favorites]


have questioned whether the kingdom pays Western consultants more than they’re worth.

Has anyone ever not paid consultants more than they're worth?
posted by biffa at 5:39 AM on August 2, 2019 [11 favorites]


“I don’t want any roads or pavements. We are going to have flying cars in 2030!”

Flying cars to deliver the piano.
posted by Brian B. at 5:45 AM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


From the FAQ:

NEOM will be independent of the Kingdom’s existing governmental framework,
excluding sovereign laws, in regards to taxation, customs, labor laws,

WHAT DOES “EXCLUDING SOVEREIGN” MEAN?
“Sovereign laws” refer to everything related to the military sector, foreign policy, and
sovereign decisions, all of which will remain at the government of Saudi Arabia’s discretion


Soo basically independent until the king changes his mind. Go, live the wild life, but have a zero minute exit strategy, keep your jet helicopter fueled at all times.
posted by sammyo at 6:23 AM on August 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


Worse ways to create a false economy. I mean; they could be doing plans to invade far away countries; and stick around for "wars" that go on for decades+.
posted by buzzman at 6:25 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Soo basically independent until the king changes his mind.

Where have I heard that before?
posted by acb at 6:49 AM on August 2, 2019


I'm reminded too much of the Soviet penchant for grandiose top-down megaprojects. Which either didn't work at all, or only worked until the ignored external costs to the environment, or public health, or other parts of the economy (and often not "or" but "and") started to bite.

You end up with a lot of things like Energia rockets and military ekranoplans and "Great" Plans for the Transformation of Nature that provoke a noise which is half awe and half laugh, but nothing that's useful to anyone.
posted by Quindar Beep at 6:49 AM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Monaco has always struck me as a country that a child might design. It has a castle, princesses, little trains that you can jump on and off, a nice beach, a gigantic aquarium on top of a hill for no reason, a race track that goes all the way through the city and so on.

Abu Dhabi, in contrast, is a country that is spending billions building universities and museums to try to appear like a cultured "Western" country, when in fact it is a cultural desert where it gets to be 50 degrees and they have to chill the water in the swimming pools.
posted by Major Tom at 7:06 AM on August 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


spending billions building universities and museums to try to appear like a cultured "Western" country

Cargo cult thinking. People living under democratic rule with (relative) freedom of thought, religion, speech, safety, tolerance, etc., that is the secret sauce that dictators cannot offer.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:22 AM on August 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


People living under democratic rule with (relative) freedom of thought, religion, speech, safety, tolerance, etc., that is the secret sauce that dictators cannot offer.

But they think they see an clear route to the benefits without the "down" side thanks to the example of China. I wish I were more sure that they were wrong about that.
posted by Quindar Beep at 7:36 AM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


I mean; they could be doing plans to invade far away countries; and stick around for "wars" that go on for decades+.

Does Yemen count?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:41 AM on August 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have been living in China for the last 3 years, and no matter how many foo-foo Gabanni filled and air conditioned malls I visit, there is nothing that would make me endorse this place.

The people seem to love the safety, or at least know that this is the correct talking point to speak publicly, but there is something empty and tragic at the core of modern China.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:45 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Perhaps, between them, China, the UAE and Saudi Arabia will develop a successful vat-grown substitute for civil society
posted by acb at 7:55 AM on August 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


NEOM will be independent of the Kingdom’s existing governmental framework,
excluding sovereign laws, in regards to taxation, customs, labor laws,


As well as a way to dodge things like environmental concerns, it strikes me that this is to get around the religious strictures as well. I think this is a "check your Wahhabism at the door" policy.

The princes have been to Dubai and they one want of their own, but better, with glowing sands and flying cars and robot dinos.
posted by bonehead at 8:09 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


I hear they're going to name the plaza where they have the public executions after Kashoggi.
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Cargo cult thinking. People living under democratic rule with (relative) freedom of thought, religion, speech, safety, tolerance, etc., that is the secret sauce that dictators cannot offer.

It's an extraordinarily ethnocentric snd colonialist attitude to think that universities are only a product of Western "enlightened" civilization. In fact, universities originally grew and thrived in political systems we would consider massively authoritarian. And the great US universities developed in a slave state that systematically disenfranchised the majority of the population.

I'm seeing in this thread more than a little "Oh ho, look at what them brown peoples are doing now! Imitating their betters, wot?" style racism.
posted by happyroach at 8:34 AM on August 2, 2019 [9 favorites]


A bunch of consultants recently decided it'd be super awesome to put a Dubai style island system in a toxic lake here in Utah. I don't think it'll ever see the light of day, but I'm sure it was all an exercise in extracting some obscure taxpayer funded ecology grant to a consulting firm whipped up specifically for the purpose. Seems to be a common grift that disappears shortly after seeing the light of day.
posted by msbutah at 8:52 AM on August 2, 2019


The princes have been to Dubai and they one want of their own, but better, with glowing sands and flying cars and robot dinos.

With blackjack and hookers. In fact, forget the dinos.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:19 AM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


The TrashFuture podcast about this is going to be epic!
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:19 AM on August 2, 2019


One of my biggest business pimps is directly involved in the project.
I am puzzled by "biggest business pimp." I tried to get it from context, but could someone clarify this? It appears to be a term of art, but I find nothing useful to me on the intertubes.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 9:22 AM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Why have we been fighting wars for these guys for 30 years now? Seems like they could afford their own military.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:22 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Large engineering firms often don't do the actual work themselves. They may do the high value-adds like design and project management, but contract construction and fabrication out. Where the in-house/contract out line is drawn varies from outfit to outfit, but that's a common one. Their primary function though is development of bids in response to RFPs and assembling the team to complete the bid. Some of them are little more than brokers for the companies that do the work.

So these engineering firms need to procure a stable of sub-contractors to service their client base in response to an agreed-upon price. The firms take their cut off the top, typically with the greatest margins and then pay out the subs themselves. So that's possibly the biggest structural difference between large-scale engineering and sex work: who the client pays.
posted by bonehead at 9:58 AM on August 2, 2019


"Oh ho, look at what them brown peoples are doing now! Imitating their betters, wot?"

No, you've got it all wrong, happyroach. Whatever the history, today the dictators and tyrants are throwing money at Western imports from those places where civil society works, imagining that if they have the Louvre and Carnegie Hall and F-1 races or whatever that makes their countries good places to live. The places they are buying that stuff from are, on the whole, tolerant and multi-ethnic places. Thus the "cargo cult" - they don't understand (or want to pretend) that the outward appearances are what matter.

Maybe this vat-grown option will work out, let's see. I think the more likely outcome is eventually rich people's heads on sticks. This is not a brown people thing, it is a corrupt elites thing.

(Oh and just by the way - the Saudi elite tend to be light skinned, and the brown people are imported as slave labour from Pakistan and Africa. Been there, seen it with my own eyes.)
posted by Meatbomb at 10:15 AM on August 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


If I'm alive in 30 years, I'm really looking forward to visiting the ruins of this.
posted by thenormshow at 10:46 AM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


I mean it’ll be like 140 degrees so take a hat
posted by The Whelk at 11:19 AM on August 2, 2019 [10 favorites]


This plan makes me wonder how many of our cherished cultural relics are actually the insane and stupid boondoggles of the unecessarily rich and powerful.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:36 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Puts me in mind of the story of St. Petersburg---one of the prettiest cities in all of Europe---built by slave labour in a northern swamp. Tens of thousands of conscripts died; it's sometimes called the 'city of bones'.

This is going to be built by effectively indentured, dark-skinned labour from SE Asia and Africa. Likely hundreds or thousands will die. SA doesn't have the best labour standards, and the region a horrible track record. It will be designed and supervised by light-skinned knowledge workers form Europe or NA.
posted by bonehead at 12:00 PM on August 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


Jon Mitchell: "This plan makes me wonder how many of our cherished cultural relics are actually the insane and stupid boondoggles of the unecessarily rich and powerful."

I agree. Cathedrals and Palaces and the like are nice backgrounds for Instagram pics nowadays, but there's no way I would have supported their construction back in the day.
posted by signal at 12:40 PM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


This plan makes me wonder how many of our cherished cultural relics are actually the insane and stupid boondoggles of the unecessarily rich and powerful.

Does your city have a sportsball arena?
posted by klanawa at 6:13 PM on August 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


imagining that if they have the Louvre

built centuries before The Bastille was overrun

and Carnegie Hall

which opened one year before the Homestead Strike

and F-1 races or whatever

I'll be nice and give you that one

that makes their countries good places to live.

Dunno man, they seem to have the right idea
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 7:20 PM on August 2, 2019


Man, it sure seems like Las Vegas makes a ton of money.
Focus Group! Figure out what makes Las Vegas work, then make me one!
posted by ctmf at 10:40 AM on August 3, 2019


Consultants: Good news! Our hugely expensive study shows that what makes Vegas Vegas is a total lack of liquid water! You're onto a winner here. Send us more money and we'll show you how money laundering fits in as well.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 11:45 AM on August 3, 2019


>There's literally no fresh water for starters. It all comes from desalinization plants.

I'm wavering on whether I'd still put this in the "points AGAINST" category these days. Existing cities were almost all founded where there was year-round freshwater (such as beside the kind of river that stays wet during the dry season because of mountain snowmelt or glaciers) and we're seeing some of those once-reliable systems increasingly disrupted by shifting local climate, and cities sometimes coping poorly with the water stress.

If you (an oceanfront city) are based on desalination infrastructure from the start and understand you depend upon it, then your water security is in your own hands. That has the potential to end up being more secure, and even if not it gives recourse beyond shaking fists at clouds. It's certainly a critical vulnerability and a burden and cost that other cities don't have to pay, but if a city can carry that burden, it has advantages too.
posted by anonymisc at 3:19 PM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


> "This plan makes me wonder how many of our cherished cultural relics are actually the insane and stupid boondoggles of the unecessarily rich and powerful."

I mean, the Pyramids were basically, "Build me a mountain out of stone so that my corpse has a posh place to lie around in."
posted by kyrademon at 7:24 AM on August 4, 2019 [6 favorites]


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