Thoughts on “The Line”

This 2-minute video shows a vision for a dense, eco-oriented city called the Line, that would be built in Saudi Arabia.

This is akin to the Ecocity Builders concept, which I like a lot, and which has long been espoused by Richard Register et al. Ecocities are envisioned as densely populated settlements with the tallest buildings (4-5 storeys) forming a tight nucleus surrounded by nature and many transport options with an emphasis on human-powered modes.

The Line is different in some ways that I see as not green:

1) Why is it shaped like a monolithic wall — a human-invented structure designed to serve as a barrier — rather than the more natural, organically emergent, plural cluster shape envisioned by Ecocity Builders and more close to the shapes and forms found in a forest or savannah?

2) Besides being shaped like a barrier, the linear shape is also designed to favor mechanized transportation rather than human-powered transport. The video refers to how quick it is to get from one end of the city to the other. Quickness is efficient in a capitalistic industrial sense, but the slower and “less efficient” modes such as walking, bicycling, scootering, wheelchairing, skateboarding, etc., are what build vibrant social connections, social capital, community. (Edit: I assumed they were talking about some sort of train or monorail, but maybe they have walking in mind when they say it’s quick to get from one end to the other.)

3) An economy characterized by heavy dependence on automation rather than healthy reliance on human beings, cottage industries, micro businesses. A healthy community is intricately linked by an interdependent web of services provided by humans living in right relationship with each other and with the rest of nature.

4) The envisioned linear skyscraper-city is seventy-five miles long. Plans call for five million residents. Meanwhile, magnificent Tokyo (one of my favorite cities) accommodates I believe about eight million residents in its roughly circular central area which is about six miles across.

5) As always with techno-green visions like this, the “energy sci-fi” objection comes up. I don’t have the scientific and technical background to know if the “energy math” would work or not, but based on various things I’ve read or watched from knowledgeable people whose assessments I trust, I strongly suspect it would not.

All of that said, any creative efforts that challenge the prevailing notions of what urban settlements can look like, and at least trying to leave nature a lot more space, are worth considering. And hey, it’s a design concept. If some element doesn’t turn out to be practical or feasible, the design can be tweaked.