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68% of the World Will Soon Live in Urban Areas — Are Smart Cities the Future for Humanity? Is Saudi Arabia's NEOM a vision or a mirage? Discover the transformative power of smart cities.

By Asim Rais Siddiqui Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Key Takeaways

  • By 2050, 68% of the global population is expected to reside in cities.
  • Critics have raised valid concerns regarding NEOM's feasibility and sustainability.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Over half of the world's population lives in urban areas, and by 2050, this number is expected to rise to over 68%, adding another 2.5 billion inhabitants in cities. The strain on existing infrastructure and resources is becoming more apparent as the global population increasingly gravitates toward urban centers. This is also where the significance of smart cities becomes evident.

Imagine a city where technology seamlessly intertwines with urban life, revolutionizing the way we live, work and connect. That's exactly what smart cities hope to achieve. A smart city harnesses the power of information and communication technology (ICT) to increase operational efficiency, share information with citizens and provide improved government services and citizen welfare.

Among these visionary endeavors, one project, in particular, has captured the world's attention and sparked much debate: NEOM, a planned smart city in Saudi Arabia's heart. But is NEOM a genuine catalyst for change or a mirage that dazzles the imagination? Let's delve into it and find out.

Related: Why Smart Cities Are the Path to a Sustainable Future

How smart cities are transforming urban living

Advancements in digital technology, IoT, AI and big data analytics have facilitated the growth of smart cities in recent years. These cities incorporate such technologies into their urban infrastructure to enhance mobility, encourage public engagement and optimize resource allocation.

From using IoT-enabled sensors and devices to manage and maintain infrastructure to implementing intelligent energy grids and transportation networks to adopting data-driven governance and citizen-centered services, the potential advantages that smart cities can offer are extensive.

The city of Dublin in Ireland is a great example of a city transitioning towards being a smart city and other cities are following suit, with many countries even embarking on ventures to develop planned smart cities. The Saudi NEOM is just one of them.

Related: What Makes Smart Cities Smart

Is NEOM a vision or a mirage?

NEOM, Saudi Arabia's planned city, has been positioned as a pioneering smart city project that aims to reinvent urban living. NEOM strives to build a vibrant ecosystem driven by innovation, sustainability and economic diversity across a wide span of approximately 26,000 square kilometers. The city pledges to develop a vibrant, technology-driven city by focusing on essential industries such as energy, biotechnology, tourism and entertainment.

Let's look at the potential NEOM holds to influence planned city projects around the globe and the skepticism surrounding it.

Related: Why Smart Cities Are a Golden Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

The potential of NEOM

NEOM holds the promise of being a blueprint for future smart cities worldwide. Its emphasis on technology-driven solutions has the potential to improve energy efficiency, enhance mobility and bolster public safety, making it an attractive model for urban development.

One area of potential impact lies in sustainable infrastructure. NEOM's commitment to being powered entirely by renewable energy sources showcases a strong dedication to mitigating carbon emissions and promoting environmental sustainability.

Another key aspect is the integration of autonomous transportation systems. NEOM envisions a network of smart mobility solutions, including autonomous vehicles and intelligent traffic management.

Furthermore, NEOM's emphasis on technology-driven solutions presents opportunities for innovation and collaboration. It aims to create an ecosystem that nurtures research and development, fostering partnerships between businesses, academic institutions and startups.

Concerns about NEOM

Critics have raised valid concerns regarding NEOM's feasibility and sustainability. The massive scale of the project and its potential environmental impact have raised eyebrows. The successful realization of NEOM's ambitious goals, such as being entirely powered by renewable energy and implementing autonomous transportation, is no small feat. Skeptics question whether such grand ambitions can be effectively executed in practice.

Moreover, NEOM has also been at the forefront of several controversies, including the forced eviction of the Huwaitat tribe from their homes and human rights violations against migrant workers.

The geopolitical context surrounding NEOM also raises additional questions. Its location near the borders of Egypt and Jordan and regional dynamics introduce uncertainties that could impact the project's success. Political stability, collaboration with neighboring countries and the management of potential conflicts are among the key challenges NEOM must address.

Related: Saudi Arabia's NEOM: A US$500 Billion City Being Built 'For A New Way Of Living'

Can NEOM revolutionize urban development?

NEOM's ambitious vision for a smart city represents a bold endeavor that, if successful, could revolutionize urban development. However, it is essential to approach NEOM with a critical lens, considering the challenges and skepticism it faces. Monitoring its progress, addressing environmental concerns, ensuring long-term sustainability and navigating geopolitical complexities will be crucial for NEOM's future.

As NEOM unfolds, further analysis and evaluation will shed light on its potential as a transformative project. Balancing visionary goals with practical considerations is key to discerning whether NEOM will emerge as a visionary city of the future or remain a mirage in the desert.
Asim Rais Siddiqui

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Co Founder & CTO at TekRevol

An expert in next-generation technology and software solutions, Asim Rais Siddiqui has over a decade’s worth of experience in development and enterprise digitalization. Asim uses his skills to scale businesses, capitalize on new market opportunities, and facilitate growth through calculated risks.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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