Middle East: Smart cities shaping the future

Dubai's business bay towers at sunset

As private-led investments continue to build across the region, the Middle East makes headways in becoming a global smart, and sustainable, city hub.


Middle East countries ranked

#13United Arab Emirates
#21Saudi Arabia

Funding for the Middle East’s large-scale projects remain heavily state-financed, but the share of private finance is slowly, but steadily, increasing. Supportive PPP legislation in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and soon Saudi Arabia is set to increase investor confidence and support the region’s economic diversification.

In particular the Middle East has presented some of the most ambitious solar and onshore wind projects, closing a pipeline of over 2.8GW according to inspiratia. The region – collectively and individually – is putting renewable energy at the centre of it growth agenda as well as to fuel its smart city ambitions.

Case study: Neom, a new future


Led by the pivotal Vision 2030 programme, Saudi Arabia is pushing the boundaries of technology advancements with Neom, a smart city haven.

Since its reveal in 2016, Vision 2030 – the economic diversification masterplan pioneered by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman – has spurred investor interest towards landmark infrastructure and energy deals in Saudi Arabia. By 2017 the vision had evolved to include Neom, a 26,500 square kilometre mega-smart city development.
From connected infrastructure to smart buildings and mobility, the smart city concept is hailed as a solution to rapid urbanisation whilst simultaneously improving economic and social potential. By aligning digital transformation and sustainability with its Vision 2030 plans, Saudi Arabia expects Neom to generate USD 100bn in total GDP by 2030. Neom will be powered 100% by renewable energy and governed by an independent judicial system to encourage investment towards 16 priority industries, including advanced manufacturing, mobility and biotech.

According to official announcements in 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and a mix of investors have committed over USD 500bn. A privatisation programme will also be implemented, including a 5% sale of oil giant Saudi Aramco which will support PIF in raising a further USD 300bn. 
Construction on the first urban area, Neom Bay, began in Q1 2019 with named contractors including the Saudi Binladin Group and AECOM.

Preparations for phase two, an industrial city, have already begun. Seven bids from foreign firms have been invited to assess the best proposal for executing the development.

Champions of the water industry

The Neom coastline stretches 468km along the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. The vast supply of seawater will be used to fuel Saudi Arabia’s thriving desalination industry and attract the latest water technology to Neom.


Neom will house disruptive solutions for transport, particularly providing an enabling environment for automated driving and drones.

In June 2019, the Neom Bay Airport, located in the northern region of Sharma, was inaugurated for commercial flights and is the first 5G network-supported airport in the Middle East.

Contracts for the King Salman Bridge – a 32km causeway linking Saudi Arabia’s Tabuk to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt – were awarded to developers Arup Group, WSP and Fugro. The bridge will not only serve Neom but also directly connect the Middle East to Africa.