FIG Young Surveyors Network

The Next Big Thing

The next big thing will be a geospatial renaissance.  You may prefer to call it a geospatial awakening, or revolution, or regeneration, or even a geospatial rebirth.  This will have everything to do with new technologies, and so much more.

Before I can help you discover this, we need to examine some cold hard facts in our history and go places where few have ventured to go before.  We need to get real, and identify the current reality.  Then we can begin to set the stage with meaningful solutions, rather than continue with our current land information systems, which are archaic and inefficient.

We need to understand the basic building block of the parcel fabric in any modern GIS system today is based upon the text written legal description.  Text based legal descriptions, which lawyers control, are archaic in light of modern graphics and all the technological advances experienced by the geospatial community.

There are about 3,300 counties in this nation, each inventing and developing its own unique land information system.  The decision makers on these county systems are elected politicians, and not geospatial professionals.  In 2 articles found within xyHt, John Paletiello documents what is going on nationally.  He entities one of his articles, “It’s Time Our Nation Wakes up!”  When grading 7 categories of geospatial activities, the US is ranked 15th behind other countries.  The US averages about a C grade, but when looking at the cadastre, that grade is D+.  How can this be with some of the greatest technological advances ever in the last 40 years?

Where is the plan to dramatically improve upon that grade of D+?  There is none.  There needs to be.  The threads that follow will show geospatial professionals what needs to happen, highlighting our glorious history going back 150 years, and refocusing on a dramatically different and far better future.

So do you like the idea of a geospatial renaissance?  What about an internal paradigm shift within the hearts and minds of the geospatial community of professionals?  And this internal paradigm shift will be even far greater than the external paradigm shift that we have seen in the last 40 years with new technologies.

It’s time for a grade A again!

20 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing

  1. Sounds expensive.We have a county registry that has deeds back to the fire.  All are available online for the fee of a dollar per sheet that you print that you print.  They have not taken the profits to scan the probate records.Our attorneys strictly adhere to the REBA 60 for research.  A standard ALTA should include substantial time to research where the attorneys fall short. 

  2. A few random thoughts:Who gets an “A” or an “F” in any grading system is less dependent on the person being graded than the person who sets the grading criteria.  I’ll wager if we ranked the same nations cadastral systems with high marks for tradition, stability, continuity, and potential costs to establish and maintain, the current system in the U.S. would get an “A”.  And that grade would be just as meaningless as the above referenced D+.The number of American, uninvolved in the “geospatial” marketplace who woke up this morning and though “boy, I’d sure be willing to pay more property tax for a modernized land tenure system” is zero.I’ve met John, I like John, but to paraphrase Upton Sinclair: When a man’s financial interest is tied to lobbying government for funding new systems, it’s hard for him to not see value in new systems.”We could certainly argue that a modernized cadastre would be a huge progress toward a more efficient system.  However, one could also make a decent argument that the blind, top down, drive for progress to more efficent systems is the bane of modernity. I’ll put the local Amish farmer up against the Soviet style five year agricultural plan any day of the week.Along the same lines, I’ve personally become so disenchanted that I only have one political maxim that I will stand up for; I will always defend the local, particular, existing, and yes, less efficient than it could be, over the call for an overarching, national, modern, progressive, efficient replacement. So…much like I’ve thrown away my noisy, unwieldy, efficient, time saving leaf blower in exchange for a rake, this “geospatial professional” will, regrettably, have to pass on the Brave New World of the upcoming geospatial renaissance. Now you [email protected]&n kids get off my lawn.  😡

  3. I’ll  endorse James Fleming’s rebuttal here. Not fully since he wanders of into a polemic but he is quite correct on many of his bullet points.Technocracy leads to autocratic government. Boundaries are the domain of the SURVEYOR not the geospatialized GISic geomatical agent who longs to be an engineer. Why should a local boundary survey need to be digitally determined by someone and somewhere in some office of the state capital.That being said, science and technology offer solutions to problems that can’t be ignored. But it is a double edged sword.Change agent pfft

  4.  To RJ Leaver….. No possession?No intent?Accretion?  Avulsion?No natural hierarchy?No interpretation of vague deeds?Prorate all sections?  Decisions related to that?Deed doesn’t match reality?  How you gonna fix that?I agree that the system is evolving, and it needs to.  But I disagree with GIS doing it. I also remain disappointed that NSPS doesn’t get into this.You can’t grade a paper properly unless you truly understand the subject–or even write a test unless you understand the subject. 

  5. Made presentations to County Engineers Association of Ohio Conference, Ohio GIS, September 26, 2001 and Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio Annual Conference, February 8, 2002.  These presentations (and the paper “GIS/LIS in Ohio and the NCEES Model Law” submitted) outlined existing Ohio laws that required county tax maps to be created and maintained under the supervision of a licensed Professional Surveyor.  This did generate some discussion in Ohio and a recognition that using GIS as a tax map did not alter the legal requirements.  Some counties ignored the discussions and openly violated the law John Francis ( RETIRED69) and I frequently posted about this both here and on the other board.

  6. Where national cadastres work, and work well, the countries are much smaller, and legacy land records systems were less disparate and diverse to start with.  An idea worth exploring of course, but the main sticking point I could see is that local control is an integral part of the existing fabric, is a point of pride, and highly defended. Retro-fitting the country, a state. or even some counties would be fraught with impracticality and intense opposition. Not to say that lessons learned and specific elements from successful cadastres could not improve on the existing – that may be the most substantive and realistic expectation for examining cadastres.In trying to herd multiple entities and systems together remember the adage:“A convoy only goes as fast as the slowest ship”

  7. If we were establishing a new cadastre independent of common law and prior to settlement this would work. As has been said, a few hundred years of title and occupation would have to be ignored to make it happen. The Profession of Surveying, the powers of Courts and existing real property rights would be replaced by a ‘system’ having its own imperfections. Over time a serires of manuals and a body of case law would develop to overcome and adapt as these imperfections became apparent.Maybe we could call this a Public Land Survey System…

  8. Gavin,
    Would you like to take the opportunity here to educate all of us on how cadasters in other countries work very well, and how land surveyors are integral to that success? I think you have some insight into the Australian way of doing business and how land surveyors are involved in that, far better than here in the US. In fact, I suspect you have some insight into many other countries and how land surveyors are integral to the success of their land information systems.

    I am opposed to a national effort, I never suggested that. The guy waving the American flag may have misled some. State by state, or even several states could work together.

    This would be pro-private sector and pro-geospatial authority by state(s), and not a national bureaucracy, which is something we definitely do not need more of.

    In my state, the last time there was a real geospatial authority was in 1866, and that is when the office of the Surveyor General was closed in my state by the federal government. This would be run like a public service commission, yes sanctioned by each state, but then left to the geospatial professionals to run it, and not the local county politicians, as it is run now. Last I checked land surveyors are considered geospatial professionals. Now elected county politicians are currently in charge of geospatial decisions, of which they know absolutely nothing, including land surveying in 3300 counties in this country. Do you like that model? Is is working?

    To the other comments:

    Sounds expensive?

    Our current inefficient system is expensive and title insurance is worthless, when an accurate survey shows otherwise. Our current system has not involved land surveyors and it is wrought with archaisms and inefficiencies. If those who know, like COGO, the Coalition of Geospatial Organizations, give the entire country a grade of D+, are you going to just ignore that? Is D+ good enough going forward? It will take surveyors to get it up to a grade of A. Are you as land surveyors all opposed to that?

    I never said this would be a national GIS. This is about involving land surveyors where we have been left out of the equation, for at least 150 years in my state. Wouldn’t you like to become relevant again?

    To Frank Willis, all your concerns will be addressed by land surveyors and not by the lawyers, that is in the new system. We still have the old system, so I know that is hard to understand.

    To James Fleming, I like Amish farmers too. I live not far from them. If you prefer the Amish lifestyle, you will need to cash in all your new technology and get out your compass and chain. The computer has got to go, too. Maybe some Amish farmer can help you be a chainman when he is not running a one bottom plow behind his 2 horses.

    • Rich,I am a bit short on discretionary time and energy to go back over and over the various cadastre models and discussions as in the exhausting email exchanges over the past year or so. I encouraged you to continue your research and even suggested outlines (several times) on how you could present problem statements, examples of various cadastres and models, and propose actionable steps (even if only some select elements of cadstres that could help improve legacy systesms). And even offered to help you get that published; the SaLIS journal is always looking for papers, and it could be serialized in trade publications to spark discussion. Nothing came of that. Like I said, it is all well and good to state what might (or might not) be “wrong”. But a whole other matter to be able to propose practical (financially, socially, and legally) alternatives.While I am skeptical that a graphical-based cadastre could be implemented fully at a most states or at many local levels, some elements could as Dallas has noted re some counties in Ohio. There are states and localities that have Torrens Systems (though with mixed success). Yes there are cadastres in other (smaller) countries (with more homogeneous legacy records). Netherlands has Kadaster, that is successful (but not without growing pains) and they have exported that model to a number of developing countries (that are able to start almost from scratch). Sweden is another model; but where there are no surveying licenses and boundary is performed by national and local public entities (that does not eliminate land disputes but removes a lot of ambiguity). many of these models have been written up in papers and articles. Great place for you to continue your research.I admire passion in crusades. Best wishes on your crusade. I am kinda done responding though.

  9. Any new system or improvement in existing systems must be built on the data we have, and some places apparently don’t have much to build on. The first step toward improvement would be to get all states to require recording of plats if there was no prior one or if a new survey shows material differences, and capping/tagging of monuments so we know more of their history. 

  10. The 2001 paper I linked above concluded with the following statement of my opinion.In closing I believe Ohio has in place the legal basis for a County Auditor’s GIS cadastral layer to be considered authoritative. Consensus needs to be reached regarding methods to document and resolve boundary conflicts. Cadastral layers maintained by registered professional surveyors, using existing survey and co-ordinate documentation standards discussed will, over a period of many years result in improved usability for Ohio public GIS systems. The counties that took notice and are following Ohio law are well on their way to resolving the problems.

  11. If you live in a state that has mandatory recording of plats, consider yourself lucky. I’m not going to offer an opinion about a national cadastre, but I think we need to have some minimum standards for written deeds as a start to reforming our land records system. I have seen relatively modern deeds here in Chatham County, Georgia, that are little more than a recitation of the tax assessor’s ID number and a street address. While those deeds may or may not be sufficient in a legal sense to convey property, they suck when you have to figure out where the property is on the ground. Also, my personal favorite is a deed that calls for a plat or drawing that is not recorded, and most likely stuffed in a closet of the dead Surveyor’s relatives, if they didn’t burn all his records first. If you call for a plat in a deed, it needs to be of record. No bearings/distances in the deed, just a reference to a plat that cannot be found.
    I would be interested to hear from folks in areas that have minimum standards for written deeds. Some of ours down here in the Great State Of Chatham need a great deal of improvement.

    Dale Yawn
    Savannah, Ga.

  12. What needs to be addressed is boundary law. In the US landowners are in control of their boundaries. They been allowed to deed it to others in a pretty sloppy fashion. The PLSS enabled a lot of deeding without surveys. Breaking up a perfect square into mathematical parts is pretty simple on paper. It’s been do it yourself since the beginning and that is a fairly economical way to do it. If it was messed up the problem goes to the buyer in the future, the seller cashes his check and washes their hands of it. So we have this “paper” record that is pretty warped from reality. But what’s economical to deal with is the paper record, that’s what the deed says, gotta stick to that.Surveyors don’t work to long on boundaries until they figure out “it’s not how the paper says it is.” But there has been a never ending push to make the world fit the paper instead of reality. It’s goes on today and I’ve come to believe it will continue into the future. Probably the biggest driver is the cost. The cost to get a description properly corrected in the record to reflect the actual math is great. To properly change the description in the record requires a survey and both landowners to the boundary to sign documents and record it. It requires cost, legal work, title work and time. Even when this is all done we don’t always end up with anything that can be put into a actuate GIS. Just more paper that may be expensive to locate on the ground in the future.Now bring in all the boundary law and how the courts have ruled over centuries. The problem of descriptions that don’t mathematically work out is not a new one, probably been there since the beginning. The courts have spent a lot of time and effort working through these problems. There is law to follow although I don’t think society pays that much attention. Getting your boundary problem resolved by the court is probably the most expensive option of all.Now lets look at surveyors. All many think you need to locate your boundary is to get it surveyed. Yes, that’s part of it but not all. The surveyor doesn’t have any authority to adjudicate boundaries. Surveys resolve boundaries because landowners “accept” the survey, not because the survey fixes the location of the boundary. If a landowner doesn’t accept a boundary survey they can go to court. Or what I find in my area of work is they just ignore it. The survey gets them some permit they need, they do what they want to do, leave their long established fences where they always been and go on as before. In other words they don’t accept the survey or challenge it, they get their permit and life goes on.To address the law and get an accurate cadastre you would need some process where the boundaries get a survey and proper opinion under law from a surveyor where the boundary is located. Then you would need a statutory process where the boundary is officially accepted by the landowners (legally binding). Then the lines of the survey would need to be properly coordinated and entered in the GIS map. The GIS technology is already in place, that was the easy “cheap” part. The remainder if done according to law without violating landowners constitutional rights, not so cheap and not so fast.

  13. I dunno, from what I’ve seen it’s a long way off.If there are masses of qualified surveyors to hit the field and monument and tie every corner to a Geo database, then I suppose it could work, after that you need someone to track the ever changing coordinates; until then the most important breakthrough I’ve seen in GIS is what I noticed in the Natrona County WY GIS:You can turn on the property lines, and you can see photo imagery, but you can’t see the photo under the property lines unless you zoom way out, as you get closer the photo imagery fades to gray and when you get really close it vanishes,,,,,, now that is brilliant. Maybe other GIS do this, but theirs is the only one where I’ve seen it.Stop tying iffy property lines to high resolution photos is a great idea and very helpful.

  14. Until the technologists among us recognize and accept that 1) boundaries are legal entities which may be described according to physical features and/or mathematical terms, and that any dimensions, surveyed or otherwise, are the least reliable and least descriptive means by which to define boundary locations, GIS linework, no matter how carefully calculated, will be largely misleading. If those lines were to be decalred authoritative, particularly if maintained by the Assessor’s office or similar bureaucracy that is often heavily influenced by the political leaders of a county, the result would be absolutely disastrous in that when many, if not most will unavoidably conflict with facts on the ground.  The number and scale of legal actions and interpersonal conflicts between affected  landowners will make our current system appear very stable in comparison.At best, a cadastral layer in a GIS can be a tool similar to that of previously recorded private survey maps – as a fairly reliable guide to help find existing evidence.  Trying to make a mathematical model be authoritative would create no end to the conflicts that will come up between these purportedly authoritative coordinate defined lines and points with the long-established legal principles regarding the effect of particular on-the-ground facts on the true locations of boundaries.Any proposal to make GIS lines authoritative, or to elevate them anywhere above the position of measurements in the hierarchy of evidence also ignores the fact that the repeatability of measurements and ability to re-establish positions defined or controlled by coordinates relies on too many factors that cannot be controlled by the administrators of the GIS.  Those things include but are not limited to the weather, physical conditions which interfere with position observing equipment, the equipment used, the settings in the equipment, the methods used, the skill and care exercised by the equipment user, and all sorts of human error.Boundaries are not mathematical entities.  There is a very valid reason why our court systems recognize this, and it has nothing to do with ensuring work for lawyers.

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