Home » On the Level: A national cadastre for the U.S.?
My European friends in the surveying/engineering field often ask me about the American cadastral system and are always surprised to learn that we don’t actually have such a system in our country. How can that be?
Determine state lands and all public rights;
Establish a large scale cadastral infrastructure for Greece; and Establish a 1:5000 digital orthophoto map base for the nation.
By 2000, expenditure for the Hellenic Cadastre was 47 percent over budget, yet no properties had been correctly and finally entered into the cadastre, according to the Commission 7 report. As of 2006, only 7 percent of the country was covered by cadastral maps.
The FIG Commission 7 study reviewed the problems leading to the Quebec and Greek experiences and recommended remedies. According to the study, the projects were not clearly defined as to the objectives of the various governmental departments involved. The amount of work required and the resulting costs were underestimated. There was a lack of planning and monitoring of progress. Institutional problems and a lack of quality control also contributed to the problems in both cases. However, the value of a national cadastre is undisputed; the case has been made by a variety of experts over the past 50 years. We have studied the European cadastral systems and have seen the wonders of the “multipurpose” cadastre being used not only for taxation purposes but also for planning, as a basis for titling and in support of real estate markets.
A Valuable System
The current concern about informal development (and the accompanying illegal construction) not only in African, South American and Asian countries but also in European countries brings the cadastre into sharp focus. Two articles in the June 2008 Surveying and Land Information Science (SALIS) journal demonstrate an application of a modern operational cadastral system.
In “Simple Method for Cost-Effective Informal Building Monitoring,” the authors show how change detection techniques can be applied to automatically detect and monitor illegal construction by modern photogrammetric methods coupled with a comprehensive cadastre. In “Tools for Legal Integration and Regeneration of Informal Development in Greece: A Research Study in the Municipality of Keratea,” the authors discuss the tools used for legal integration and environmental upgrade of unplanned settlements. Many countries in Europe and elsewhere are struggling with the ongoing development of informal or unplanned developments and what to do about them. The issue is apt to boil down to the question of whether to demolish or legalize such settlements. Quality of construction, access to infrastructure and environmental impact are considered before an equitable judgment can be made. A completed and comprehensive national cadastre as the foundation of a spatial data infrastructure is required in order to answer the question.
Informal development and illegal construction may not be a pressing problem in the United States. (As far as I know, there are no studies or reports documenting extensive informal development here.) But the use of a national cadastre in wrestling with the problem of informal development is an example of the general value of the system in addition to its value for inventorying purposes, taxation, planning, environmental monitoring, disaster response and construction control.
But is the development of a national cadastre in the United States inevitable as Cowen suggests? When we see groups like register of deeds associations, the real estate bar, the land title insurance industry, county tax assessors, economists and environmentalists joining with cartographers and surveyors to demand action for a cadastre, we may see the beginning of a movement to actually develop a national cadastre.