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Thoughts on "The Line": Neom in Saudi Arabia

Under the motto "it's time to draw the line", Saudi Arabia is re-thinking urban living.

In a region called Neom, the kingdom plans to build a 170km long development. The initial press release featured trendy vocabulary like "AI-enabled communities", "100% renewable energy" and "in harmony with nature". The planned basis of its functionality rests upon a 3-layered infrastructure which outsources some essential functionalities for society to the underground realm (see image below). 



In fact, this ambitious blueprint for a new way of urban living appears to remove the disruptive and destructive component of human clustering in urban cities.


From my side, three thoughts:

First: My personal interest lies in the consequences of the underground structures. Of course, our duty to protect the planets biodiversity is not limited to the areas above the ground, but also below it. If this is to be taken as a blue print, then what will this mean for our planet complex natural systems? But this is merely critical thinking... perhaps it's possible! 

Second: What about culture and tourism and the concept of "hubs"? Think about London. Part of what makes it so appealing is it's social and cultural gravity that attracts visitors and expats from around the world, leading to innovation and exchange. Perhaps in the future the appeals and constraints of the spatial dimension will be overcome?

Third: As The Economist briefly points out, the appears to be an incompatibility of walking everywhere and the given climate which reaches 40° in the summer. I'm sure there are many more practical considerations and questions if I were to study this further. 

Nonetheless, I find this project extremely exciting. It's a wonderful demonstration of innovative/ disruptive thinking and willingness to foster change. Regardless of whether or not it will be turned into the reality it is portrayed as, it inspires onlookers like me to think differently.

For more infos click here: NEOM – IT’S TIME TO DRAW THE LINE

The Cross-Over between GIS, Global Health, and International Development

Now here's a combination that immediately fires up sparks of curiosity in my pre-conditioned socio-economic-health-focussed mind (BA International Development, MSc Global Health)!!

I know the methods of combining these disciplines are well-researched and well-established - that's great! But I don't think there can ever be enough application of these cross-overs. It will be useful every time we combine the methods and insights from different disciplines. 

The things I enjoyed the most during my social-science focussed degrees was the introduction to various concepts and the critical way of thinking about how interrelated and complex society is. On the right is an image of a fascinating idea I was introduced to me right at the start of my "international development" degree. It is the idea of an "environmental ceiling" and a "social foundation" that define a safe and sustainable space for human activity, which seems to only be increasing in relevance. The nice thing about such a compact conceptual framework is the ease with which we can grasp the ideas behind it. It's one of many that can and should be used as a guiding framework for work and research we engage in. 


Another all-rounder is the concept of the "social determinants of health". A large part of me wants to jump at any opportunity of being involved in an interdisciplinary project that brings together the highly technical tools of geoinformatics and a holistic socio-economic framework. In many ways, I have already been able to combine these things in various work-environments. As a result, I am only more and more eager to pop the bubbles of "individual" disciplines. 

The Social Determinants of Health

So how well can we integrate the practical tools of remote sensing and GIS with invisible, socio-economic data?


Here we need to clearly differentiate between remote sensing and GIS. In the field of remote sensing it is quite plain to (not) see that conceptual and socio-economic data can hardly be found on a satellite image. An article I was reading on object-based-image analysis digs deeper into this issue. Such concept-based, intangible objects are called "fiat objects". According to the authors, their mapping is entirely expert-based, extremely difficult to assess and delineate as image objects (logically).

...which brings us to the GIS domain. Here the integration of such data is technically straightforward but complex once we begin to think about analysis and visualisation methods. To begin with, we also need to collect or access bulks of data in order to combine them. 

Most of all, an understanding of the connections and correlations between space and socio-economic indicators is needed. We should not begin looking for spatial phenomena where there are none and we should not create maps to show correlations where there are none. It can be misleading to confuse correlation with coincidence. But nonetheless, we should direct our time and effort towards understanding these connections and once that is done, GIS can provide all the tools we need to communicate, analyse, and present information. 

I remain extremely eager to explore and engage in interdisciplinary projects and hope I will be able to contribute in the future. 

Ramp Up
What I Want To Do - Automate A Synced Map

Currently the WASH and Shelter group in the Lesvos RIC share a synchronised QGIS map. Both sectors can interactively engage, store data, make changes to their own version of the map. The data is stored on a shared domain which allows each sector to directly benefit from the changes made by the other group. 


This was my little project and it has clearly shown some benefits. However, it is a primitive concept, that is working, but could do with a a great deal of improvement with regards to automation and user interactions. Currently, I am manually maintaining and facilitating data updates on the respective maps via a "master map" where the data is combined. 

There must be ways of creating a "master" map that can be left alone and viewed freely, featuring the latest updates. That map should be interactive, where a viewer can zoom in and out, capture a print-out format of the map, toggle the layers that are visible, and perhaps download selected data. Or perhaps such data transfers should be used only between the central, master map and individual working maps of any organisation that is involved in the mapping collaboration. From their own working map such involved actors should be able to upload their own data. Some form of regulation as to which data is uploaded and which is displayed on the central map needs to be designed too. Since each actor has their own working map they may choose which data to share and which to keep (confidentiality). Questions I have right now: could the whole design work in QGIS? How and where could a central, interactive map be created so that it is viewable to anyone? I actually have many, many more thoughts and questions but hope that over time I might find answers.


Exchange of data (shapefiles?). Actors choose what to upload to the "master map" and can download any data that has been uploaded to the master map by other actors.

Actors' working maps. Set-up would require mutual agreement and induction. 

Master map which cannot be edited directly but viewed by all actors involved. It also stores the data that each actor chooses to upload.



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