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Saudi Arabia’s 105-mile long Line city has been cut a little short – by 103.5 miles | Rowan Moore


The second least surprising piece of recent news – the first being that yet more Tory MPs are reportedly embroiled in bizarre sexual and financial scandals – is that the Line, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s 105-mile-long (170km) vanity project in Saudi Arabia, is being scaled back. In an act of what is known in the construction industry as value engineering, it will now be only one and a half miles long, a reduction of 98.6%.

This makes Prince Mohammed, or MBS as he is known, the Nigel Tufnel of petro-despots – the guitarist in This is Spinal Tap who accidentally ordered an 18-inch Stonehenge as a stage prop, when he meant to get one 18-feet high.

Other questions arise: where, for example, does this leave the many western architects who somehow thought that working on this politically and environmentally terrifying project would be a good expression of their allegedly avant-garde and radical design philosophies?

But perhaps there is hope. This “revolution in urban living”, which looked like a compilation of gamers’ fever dreams, was conceived, promoted and debated almost entirely in the digital sphere, where it became world famous.

In the future, maybe, megalomaniac ego trips could exist entirely in this way, without troubling the Earth with their weight, or the atmosphere with their emissions.

Epic efforts

It can be difficult for elderly patients to get transport to their NHS hospital appointments. Photograph: Mike Ford/Alamy

An elderly relative with dementia needed a ride to her hospital appointment, to which, according to the NHS, she was entitled. Social services told her daughter to phone the hospital’s patient transfer service, who said to call her GP’s surgery, who said to call the patient transport service.

A different person answered the phone and said yes, they could make the booking but needed the patient’s NHS number which the daughter didn’t have.

She got the number, rang the transfer service back and spoke to a third person, who said that they couldn’t in fact arrange the ride and that she had to phone the GP, whose receptionist, by then ill-tempered, said she would try but wasn’t sure how far she’d get, and then rang back to say that the elderly patient with dementia would have to be ready to leave from 8am for an appointment at 10.15am, in a hospital only 15 minutes away – and she couldn’t be accompanied by her husband.

As the wait and uncertainty would very likely be too much for her to handle alone, the daughter asked her brother to drive their mother which, after rearranging his work, he was able to do. Other patients might not be so lucky.

It would be comforting to say that this epic of insensitivity and wasted effort is hard to beat, except that, as everyone knows, things like this happen all the time.

Local hero

Leeson O’Keeffe’s psycho-ceilidh music brought the house down in venues all over the world. Photograph: Facebook

I’d like to pay tribute to Leeson O’Keeffe, who died last week of pancreatic cancer, a musician I was lucky enough to know. He performed with Shane MacGowan and succeeded him as frontman of The Popes. His psycho-ceilidh music brought the house down in venues worldwide.

Five weeks ago, having recently suffered a stroke, and against doctor’s orders, he rose from his hospital bed to sing Dirty Old Town in front of the St Patrick’s Day crowds in Trafalgar Square. During Covid, he repurposed his van, used for shifting equipment for his band Neck, to deliver meals and shopping to lonely Irish elderly people in London, his trips taking twice as long as they might have done because, as he put it: “I couldn’t not talk to them.” It may not have been very rock’n’roll but he was quietly heroic.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture critic

  • Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a letter of up to 250 words to be considered for publication, email it to us at observer.letters@observer.co.uk

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