Academic journal article URISA Journal

Cadastral Boundaries: Benefits of Complexity

Academic journal article URISA Journal

Cadastral Boundaries: Benefits of Complexity

Article excerpt


Land administration is an important aspect of public administration and private business (Dale and McLaughlin 1988). Sensible use of land is necessary for its amount cannot be increased. This makes land a good candidate for investments because it cannot be destroyed and, generally, prices increase with time. Both public administration and private ownership need data on land and systems to keep the available data up-to-date. The basic building block used for this is the land parcel as identified in the cadastre (Enemark et al. 2005). European systems typically show the parcels on maps and thus not only the parcel's size is known but also its shape, the position in relation to other parcels, and where the parcel is located within the country. These maps originally were created as paper maps, but many countries moved to using digital versions in the past decades. This digitization process includes the creation of coordinates with a specified precision that then are managed by the information system used to run the cadastre.

The coordinates add a new dimension to the parcel description. The graphical representations typically are interpreted only locally and the scale of the representation stipulates its precision. Coordinates, however, frequently are interpreted in a global way and the orientation and the exact location within the reference frame are assumed to be accurately defined. The next step--already discussed in several countries--is the three-dimensional cadastre where parcels are not represented by two-dimensional areas but by three-dimensional volumes (Stoter and van Oosterom 2006). This allows nesting volumes with different ownership, e.g., different constructions.

Each development step leads to new utilizations of the cadastral data. The costs for the development must be in accordance with the benefits received from the added utilizations. The problem when designing a cadastral system for an arbitrary country is searching the system with the best setup, given the current economic and social situation of this country. This is possible only if the relation between the extensions to the system and the additional types of utilization are clear. This paper discusses this relation with a focus on the complexity of the boundary definition.


Land is different from other physical objects such as books or cars where possession is easy to prove. Proof is more difficult for possession and (as an extension) ownership of land against third parties (Bogaerts and Zevenbergen 2001). Cadastral systems solve this dilemma by creating a connection between the land and the persons (Twaroch and Muggenhuber 1997, van Oosterom et al. 2006).

The cadastre consists of several elements (compare, for example, Jeyanandan and Williamson 1990):

* a piece of land (a parcel) in the real world,

* an unambiguous identifier for each parcel,

* a description of the spatial extent of the parcel (i.e., the boundary), and

* attributes for the parcels.

The piece of land itself is seemingly the most important element. However, in some cases, "virtual" pieces of land are introduced to model specific situations. Parcels must fulfill (at least) one condition: They must not overlap. Otherwise, a piece of land may have different identifiers, which could lead to ambiguous ownership situations. If the system is managed in two dimensions only, it is not possible to model situations where ownership is divided horizontally (for example, where the basement, ground floor, and first floor of a building have different owners). Such a situation could be modeled by parcels attached to points or lines--they then have no area and thus are not "pieces" of land.

Identifiers are necessary to address specific parcels. The identifier must be unique to avoid ambiguities in the spatial reference. Data is connected to parcels by specifying the identifier of the parcel. …

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