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May 26, 2016
Making Land Legible: Cadastres for Urban Planning and Development in Latin America

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.— The traditional cadastre – a public land registry typically used to track ownership and property taxation – is being reimagined throughout Latin America as a powerful tool to promote fiscal stability and guide urban planning initiatives, including building resilience in the face of climate change, according to new research published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Advances in technology and data crowdsourcing have made this new multipurpose cadastre possible, say Diego Alfonso Erba and Mario Andrés Piumetto, authors of Making Land Legible: Cadastres for Urban Planning and Development in Latin America. Successful implementations of the multipurpose cadastre in cities in Colombia, Brazil, and other countries have demonstrated its benefits to policy makers, write the authors, both veteran land surveyors with years of experience in research and practice in this burgeoning field.

A territorial cadastre is a public registry that manages information relating to parcels of land. In much of Latin America, cadastres are structured under the orthodox model imported from Europe long ago, which accounts only for economic, physical, and legal characteristics. This model has several limitations: it is typically restricted to private properties; much of the information may be out of date and incomplete; and it does not encompass key parcel-level data needed for urban policy decisions—such as information on transportation, infrastructure, and utility networks—which is scattered among several unconnected institutions and in different formats.

A multipurpose cadastre is based on a partnership of stakeholders committed to generating extensive, precise, detailed, and up-to-date information about a city. It shares alphanumeric data and maps as well as human and financial resources, and can be implemented at the national, regional, or local level at reasonable cost. The use of camera-equipped unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, can provide extensive information quickly.

Orthodox land cadastres are implemented by public agencies using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and updated with information from periodic surveys. In contrast, a multipurpose cadastre is built within a spatial data infrastructure system. Its component parts are updated continuously with data obtained from urban observatories and other sources. Both systems can be implemented with free software applications—one of the keys to the success of the multipurpose cadastre model.

Latin America — with vast uninhabited areas and extensive urban sprawl, the Amazon jungle and increasing deforestation, and tremendous wealth and crushing poverty existing side by side — is a unique testing ground. Part of the legacy of colonization is a lack of accurate records, which continues to facilitate illegal land occupations that persist to this day and strongly conditions urban policies—particularly those related to tenure security and tax collection practices.

Although it does not define land policies, a multipurpose cadastre is a key instrument for that purpose. The data integration provided by the model is the most direct way to identify and monitor the economic, physical, legal, environmental, and social characteristics of parcels and their occupants. Planners need this information to manage the growth of cities, define strategies for financing urban development, and to reduce informality and analyze the impact of government interventions. The information is also critical for disaster preparedness and adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

Making Land Legible describes the evolution of cadastres, and surveys the adoption of the multipurpose model and associated benefits. The authors also spell out best practices to facilitate a shift to multipurpose cadastres, including building land value observatories that involve the greatest number of partners possible; implementing assessment methods based on econometric and geostatistical models that can correlate assessment maps with the real estate market; mandating the georeferencing of parcels and requiring updated blueprints on each real estate transaction; and incorporating data on public properties and informal settlements in cadastre maps.

About the authors:

Diego Alfonso Erba is a land surveyor engineer specializing in cadastres and geographic information systems. As a fellow in the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s Program on Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) from 2004-2013, he taught and researched on cadastres in Latin America and developed LAC’s distance education program. As an independent consultant, he has worked with local, regional, and national governments in several countries in Latin America. He has authored and/or edited several books and papers on multipurpose cadastres and, more recently, on 3-D cadastres.

Mario Andrés Piumetto is a land surveyor specializing in geographic information systems and cadastres. He is part of the teaching faculty in the Program on Latin America and the Caribbean of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and professor at the School of Surveying at the National University of Cordoba, Argentina. He was formerly director of cadastre of the city of Córdoba. Currently, as an independent consultant, he works on cadastres, geotechnologies, and land taxation. He has coauthored several books and papers on cadastres applied to urban land policy

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy is an independent, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to help solve global economic, social, and environmental challenges to improve the quality of life through creative approaches to the use, taxation, and stewardship of land.

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