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On the Level: A great opportunity.

March 24, 2003
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Land administration; a concept within the U.S. surveying milieu that has yet to appear on the radar screen.



The subjects of GPS, GIS, mapping and advanced technologies are all of prime importance and great interest to surveyors; after all, ours is a technology-centered profession. But the institutional issues are important, too, and from time to time we feel constrained to raise a voice in the wilderness to draw attention to them. Last year, in the April 2002 issue of POB magazine, I wrote about “Surveying the Big Issues.” My “big issues” were a global spatial data infrastructure, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, ISO (the International Standards Organization), globalization and sustainable development. These subjects have continued to receive a good deal of attention by the international surveying community but much less here in the United States. The U.S. surveying profession has responded to these issues with the sound of one hand clapping.

Land administration is another of those institutional issues that is big in other parts of the world, such as Europe, but as a concept within the U.S. surveying milieu has yet to appear on the radar screen. Land administration in this context is defined as the process of determining, recording and disseminating information about the tenure, value and use of land when implementing land management policies. We in the United States are apt to see this activity as being carried out, without coordination, by distinctly separate professions and disciplines—surveyors, lawyers and appraisers—each group working in their own separate area of expertise. In other parts of the world land administration, as an administrative and institutional activity, is more apt to be a coordinated effort in which the surveyor or surveying engineer holds a key position. He or she will have a master’s degree level of education with perhaps a major emphasis on administration, but will be in the first analysis, a surveyor. One can see the advantages in terms of career opportunity for surveyors in this system. Professional stature is enhanced, as well, and in many countries surveyors are recognized as being at the center of all policies related to land management. One area of activity in land administration is being directed by the Working Party on Land Administration.

The Working Party on Land Administration (WPLA) is an international organization that operates under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Europe Committee on Human Settlements (ECE/CHS). Under its Terms of Reference the WPLA “contributes to the comprehensive approach of the CHS in its activities on housing reforms and sustainable spatial planning,” and focuses on “privatization through security of tenure and the establishment of real estate markets in countries in transition. These activities will also assist ECE activities on the environment, facilitation of trade, foreign investment and industrial development.”

Quoting directly from its Terms of Reference, the WPLA works in:

(a) Basic land management legislation (legal rights in real property including ownership; registration of real property, ownership and mortgages; transfer of ownership; security of ownership; adjudication of land rights and resolution of disputes; land use restrictions; etc.)
(b) Land administration measures (real property formation; land registration, cadastral mapping; real property valuation; etc.)
(c) Land information systems (geo-spatial data infrastructure; real property register; land register; assessment data; land use data; cadastral maps; etc.) and
(d) Organization and management issues (institutional matters; management; financing of operations; data policy and pricing of services and cost-recovery requirements; development of professional skills; privacy; citizen participation; etc.)

In 1993, the ECE/CHS established a task force to prepare a guidelines document on land administration. That document, “Land Administration Guidelines” is organized into seven main topics and an Annex:

  • Land and Land Administration
  • The Legal Framework
  • Financial Matters
  • Land Use Planning
  • Institutional Arrangements
  • Technical Matters
    • Control surveys
    • Cadastral surveying and mapping
    • Electronic data processing for land administration
    • Recommendations
  • Procedures for Introducing a Land Administration System
  • Annex - Glossary of Terms

I emphasize the sub-topics under Technical Matters to show the level of activity at the very heart of land administration as conducted in Europe. The guidelines were “mainly written for senior government staff and politicians engaged in land administration issues.” We in the United States could wish for such a document to authenticate the importance of surveying in all aspects of land management/land administration. But first the profession itself must recognize its own role and see itself as a key player in land administration activities. There are great possibilities for the U.S. surveying profession to elevate itself in the market place of land transactions. There is also the possibility that the U.S. surveying profession will miss the opportunity while it concentrates on the exclusive activity of land boundary retracement and determination. c

The ECE/CHS Land Administration Guidelines can be found at www.unece.org/env/hs/wpla/docs/ guidelines/lag.html.

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