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Purpose of the study

Land parcels are the foundation for many aspects of public and community life. This report presents the findings of a reconnaissance study of information about land parcels in New York State. Broadly conceived, this information includes data about parcels that describe their nature, location, use, and association with physical and political geography. The purpose of the study, sponsored by the New York State Office of Real Property Services, was to provide information to help shape strategies for broader understanding and more effective use of parcel data in New York State. Accordingly, it identifies stakeholders and their interests as well as the needs and issues associated with the uses of parcel data in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

A reconnaissance study approaches a complex topic with the goal of understanding its fundamental characteristics or dimensions. It is not exhaustive or definitive in detail, but attempts to paint a broadly representative picture in wide brush strokes. The data for this study was gathered primarily through 35 interviews with people in local and state government, private companies, and non profit organizations located throughout New York State. We also made use of published report and web research. We believe the picture we paint in this report is accurate and captures the basic story of parcel data and its uses in these broad terms. However, we also know there are many specific variations on this story and we also describe some of them to illustrate the variety of practices now in use in New York State.

In keeping with the goal of fundamental understanding, we have not adopted the special terminology that is often used by the individuals we interviewed, terminology which reflects specific professional practices and legal requirements. Instead, to make this report useful to more general audience, we have tried to substitute plain language descriptions for these specific terms. Thus, for example, where a government tax professional might use the word "casdastre," we use "real property tax map" where a geographic information system specialist might use "polygon," we use "parcel boundaries." In this way, we hope to make the findings more useful to a wider range of readers.

In this report, we describe the many attributes of parcel data, discuss its value to a variety of stakeholders, present typical data flows across organizational boundaries, and illustrate a wide range of uses. We then present the main issues and challenges associated with parcel data, and conclude with a set of principles for guiding future investments in this essential data resource.