Thursday, December 26, 2013

Geospatial in the Technology Revolution

The January 2014 issue of Harpers has an intriguing article by Jeff Madrick, “The Anti-Economist - The Digital Revolution That Wasn’t”. 

Mr Madrick restates one of the Adam Smith’s principles; rising productivity is the source of the wealth of nations, in terms of technology. "Technologies that disrupt the labor force in one area eventually tend to benefit everyone because of increases in productivity.  Increases in the amount of goods and services delivered per hour of work generally lead to greater prosperity. Some jobs are eliminated but more and better paying jobs often replace them."

"Productivity growth actually started to fall well before the 2008 recession.  While some of the early hardware and software developments did create as much as 3% productivity gains, this did not last." 

At the heart of his thesis is that the new information companies, and in fact the new communication/information technology revolution does not create jobs.  We are four decades into the digital age and the economic benefits have not been manifested.

Granted this one view of the information age and its economic impact, but there are some interesting challenges for us in the geospatial information industry.  Geospatial technologies are part of the information age revolution. There are certainly new jobs in geospatial information that did not exist 5, 10, or 20 years ago.  If one of the trends in the geospatial industry is toward web based solutions and apps that can present answers to common questions, where are the high-end geospatial analysis professionals? As geospatial professionals are we really pushing forward and looking forward?  Are we being disruptive and contributing to productivity gains?  Some interesting challenges to consider as we move into the New Year.

The full article can be found here (it may require a login to get to the full article)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Add WFS to ArcGIS Arc Map Canvas

Adding Web Feature Services (WFS) to ArcMap is a useful process if you want to find and add data that is not on ArcGIS Online or data that is only provided as a feature service and not a web service or REST service.  The WFS drawing and access may be slightly slower than other service access, so be aware of the number of features and the scale of the display.  The advantage is the data is provided as features and can be manipulated as features.

Adding a Parcel WFS with Parcel GML to ArcGIS desktop is a six step process.

Step 1 - Install Data Interoperability Functionality

The data interoperability extension has to be installed on your desktop but it does not have to be licensed.  To install the extension without purchasing it or going through the set up that requires a license requires the following steps.

Find the DVD with the ArcGIS Media.  This may be a virtual drive, if it is, mount the virtual drive to access the data interoperability set up.  When you open either the virtual drive or the physical media, a standard Esri install/set up screen displays.  Don’t use this route.  Open the drive in windows explorer and find the DataInterop folder.  In that folder is a set up application.  Run the set up application (not the set up configuration settings or the set up windows installer). Accept the licensing terms and select an installation folder, just like normal installs.

When you open Arc Catalogue the Interoperability Connections will appear in the list of potential connections as shown in Step 1 below.  There is no need to customize the extension since this activation will require a paid up license.

 Step 2 – Add WFS Service to Interoperability Connections

Open Arc Catalog and expand the Interoperability Connections.

Step 3 – Select Add Interoperability Connection

Select WFS from the format selection box and enter the service URL as shown in the Dataset window below.  This example is the federal land ownership WFS from the State of New Mexico.  One tip is to let the service determine the Reader Format.

Step 4 – Set Parameters

There are several parameters for the service that can be set by hand.  In this example the number of features was constrained to 30,000 to increase the speed performance.  The next two screens show the parameters.

Verify the connection by selecting the preview tab in Arc Catalogue.

Step 5– Rename the Connection (Optional)

The connection can be renamed so it can be easily identified when adding it to a Map Document.

Step 6 – Add Data to Map Document

In ArcMap Select Add Data.  Navigate to the Interoperability Connection in the Look in: pull down and double click on the feature class.  In this case the Fed-Lands-New-Mexico.

Select the Fed-Lands-New-Mexico.fdl (expand the database symbol to see the feature class).

Click on the Feature and then the Add button. The feature will index as it adds.

The Federal Lands GML features are now available on your active ArcGIS canvas.  If the ArcGIS map document is saved, each time the map document is opened the service will access the most current Fed Lands from New Mexico GML data available from the WFS.

The data from the WFS can be filtered by time stamp, by feature attribute, and symbolized, queried, and used in the desktop just as any other locally source data.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Eminent Domain Solution for the Mortgage Crisis

Here is an interesting approach to the mortgage crisis.  What if your city was severely affected by the mortgage crisis with many homes going into foreclosure and the resulting property tax revenues plummet, putting your entire city into a downward cycle?  And what if your city determined that the mortgage crisis was a major threat to survival of the city?

If an earthquake, a flood, a hurricane, or some other natural disaster struck this same city, the city could make a disaster declaration and apply for low cost loans, a Stafford Act request could be made for support, and the city might be able to recover.  The Stafford Act applies to natural disasters.

“It is the intent of the Congress, by this Act, to provide an orderly and continuing means of assistance by the Federal Government to State and local governments in carrying out their responsibilities to alleviate the suffering and damage which result from such disasters.  “Emergency” means any occasion or instance for which, in the determination of the President, Federal assistance is needed to supplement State and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States” 

Richmond California is taking another approach and have adopted a plan to invoke the powers of eminent domain to acquire mortgages that are under water and then to find lower priced options for the homeowners to keep them in their homes, to keep the real estate tax payments stable, and to stop the downslide.   The Federal Housing Finance Agency is opposed to this approach and has stated it would suspend Fannie Mae and Freddie mac business in the city if this were invoked.  (

A lawsuit by mortgage companies to stop the city from executing its plan has “not ripened” according to a U.S. District Court.

There was a nice National Public Radio (NPR) piece on this issue on September 17, 2013.  (  The organizing for and against is particularly interesting. Opponents of the eminent domain plan rounded up local college kids, gave them red “a bad deal for Richmond” T-shirts, and had them wave “stop investor greed” placards, while supporters handed out yellow T-shirts with “yes on Richmond CARES” stickers. But the opposition is also lined up in court. For the last few months, Wall Street has traipsed into federal court threatening all kinds of problems for the city, led by filings by Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank, and they have been joined by a surprising ally: the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees and regulates Fannie and Freddie. MRP is willing to foot Richmond’s legal bills, but won’t indemnify the city if the courts rule against it and exact costly penalties. A small coalition of nonprofits, however, including the California Reinvestment Coalition, the National Housing Law Project, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, Bay Area Legal Aid, and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, has filed an amicus against Richmond’s Wall Street adversaries.

The mortgage crisis and approaches to solutions drive home the importance of parcel information, the real estate tax systems, being able to monitor and perform analysis on the economy of parcel data in any jurisdiction.  Regardless of how this is settled or resolved, parcel data will be essential to track the conditions, monitor progress, and provide measurable indicators for success.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Parcel Index

Parcel Index

(This is patterned after the Harper Indexpublished each month in Harpers magazine)

There are approximately 12,000 real estate assessing jurisdictions in the US.

This is about 26,000 people and about 13,000 parcels per assessing jurisdiction.

In Michigan there are approximately 5,000 people and about 2,500 parcels per assessing jurisdiction.

Virginia has 138 real estate taxing jurisdictions.

There are over 6,000 real estate taxing jurisdictions in the US.

There are approximately 150,000,000 tax parcels in the US and approximately 313,000,000 people, averaging about 2 people per parcel.

Slightly over 90% of the tax parcels in the US have been mapped in a computer mapping system.

About 94% of the US lives in a jurisdiction that has digital parcel data.

Approximately 75% of the counties in the US have digital parcel mapping systems.

Approximately 50 apps related to parcel data are in the iTunes store, not all of them US based.

The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) covers 30 states in the US.

Manta lists 181,848 companies with land surveying in their name, 242, 658 with Land Information in their name, and 67,045 with Geographic Information in their name in the US. 

RealtyTrac estimates there were 130,888 new foreclosures in July 2013 with an average sale value of $164,971.

RealtyTrac estimates that there are currently 1,305,081 properties in US that are in some stage of foreclosure (default, auction, or bank owned).

According to the Census there were 132,419,000 housing units in the US in 2011. Approximately 114,907,000 were occupied as regular residences and 17,512,000 were vacant or seasonal.

The assessment jurisdiction numbers come from the International Association of Assessing Officers (, the parcel counts come from the national parcel inventory ( data set, Manta can be found at (, RealtyTrac can be found at (, and the US Census Bureau is at (  Harper's Index can be found at (