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National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future
Clearly, the respective distributions of government powers in Australia and Canada differ from that found in the United States. Parcel mapping and land registration is almost fully a state or provincial government responsibility in both of those countries, offering more centralized control of the processes and standards involved, and meaning that there are fewer parties involved in trying to reach consensus on national initiatives. All Australian states, the western Canadian provinces, much of Ontario, and most recently, New Brunswick use a land titles rather than a deed registry system, implying a stronger parcel-based focus and smoothing the way toward more comprehensive and ongoing recording of all real property transactions in a given jurisdiction.
However, there is evidence of past practices in both countries suggesting duplication of parcel data collection efforts, different government departments and private companies maintaining their own parcel databases, and lack of shared standards among different jurisdictions. While there may be much left to do in both countries, Australia and Canada are examples of cooperative national initiatives that have begun processes to (1) recognize these past practices; (2) overcome them where appropriate; and (3) develop policies, practices, and incentives to create shared products and services that are accessible nationally.
As shown above, in many parts of the world a national system of land parcel information is viewed as a key part of the foundation of government services. In contrast, for a number of historic, geographic, and legal reasons, parcel- or cadastre-level information within the United States has not been viewed as a federal responsibility. However, it should be noted that the United States has devoted large sums of federal tax dollars to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank to fund parcel data programs in other nations. The full extent of USAID involvement in funding land parcel and cadastre programs is difficult to measure; however a recent study provides an interesting overview of programs in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Near East, Eastern Europe and Eurasia, and Latin America and the Caribbean (Bloch et al., 2003). One of these projects in Thailand involved a USAID loan of $118.1 million. The USAID website lists several former and current national cadastre programs that it is managing and funding. One of the most interesting is East Timor’s Land and Property Unit (LPU), which USAID is supporting by providing maps and computer equipment. The LPU is responsible for land titling, cadastre, mapping, land management, and developing policy and drafting legislation on land issues.24
A specific objective of this study was to assess the current status of parcel data. This chapter provides a systematic overview of parcel or cadastral data and programs from the international to the local government scales. The analysis suggests that the current situation in the United States may be unique in the world. At one end of the spectrum there are examples of county-level parcel data systems that have been operating for more than 30 years. Many of these counties have worked with the commercial GIS software industry in the United States to advance the technology to an extraordinary level. There are many examples of local governments that maintain parcel data in real time as real estate and other transactions are recorded. These data are immediately available to serve a wide range of applications and are available to the public through web browser-based applications. At the other end of the spectrum, about three-quarters of the counties in the United States do not maintain a digital parcel database. State involvement in parcel data is also inconsistent. While some states such as Montana and Tennessee have assumed the responsibility of statewide parcel coordination and even production there are several states in which fewer than 10 percent of the parcels are in digital formats. The role of the federal government in parcel data development and maintenance is also fragmented. Unlike many developed countries that operate a nationwide cadastre, the U.S.