Unlocking the Power of Geospatial Data for Sustainable Urban Development

Geoportal architecture: Centralized access point for spatial data infrastructure and resources.

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A national standardized spatial data infrastructure offers insights for sustainable and resilient land resource management and smart city planning.


In today's rapidly evolving world, data has become the fuel driving innovation and decision-making. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of geospatial information, where the integration of diverse datasets has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of our surroundings.

Highlighting the importance of such integration in development work, this article reviews the concept of integrated geospatial information, its applications and benefits for the urban sector, and lessons learned from an ongoing Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) technical assistance in Armenia.

Understanding Integrated Geospatial Information

Integrated geospatial information refers to the process of combining and analyzing multiple geospatial datasets from various sources, such as satellite imagery, remote sensing, aerial photography, geographic information systems, crowd-sourced street-level photographic surveys, and high-frequency location-based data. By merging these disparate datasets and employing artificial intelligence (AI) for analysis, some patterns can be observed, which can generate insights, leading to a deeper understanding of complex spatial relationships.

In many ADB developing member countries, geospatial information is scattered across different databases. A country typically has a national cadastre—though seldom digitized—used mainly to collect property taxes. Although, other government agencies, such as those involved in environment, infrastructure, and urban planning, have developed maps, these are often not encoded with the same data standards, even when digitized, and hence are not interoperable.

Applications and Benefits of Geospatial Integration

Encoding geospatial information in unified data standards is crucial to ensuring data interoperability, consistency, accuracy, integration, and sharing. This process enables efficient data management, analysis, and collaboration while supporting long-term data governance and facilitating integration across various systems and technologies.

Decision-making and managing land resources. A lack of accessible land information hinders effective policymaking in land use and spatial planning. By merging vast, accurate, and up-to-date information from different sources, decision-makers can gain a holistic view of a particular region or phenomenon and can benefit from a comprehensive analysis of land use patterns, zoning plans, and spatial planning documents, empowering policy makers to develop evidence-based policies that align with the needs of communities and that promote sustainable development.

Land value assessment. Upgrading traditional cadastral systems with integrated spatial data and big data analytics enables municipalities to conduct more accurate assessments of land values. This process offers a deeper understanding of the factors influencing property values, facilitating a nuanced evaluation of the actual increase in land value due to public investments or development. Through this enhanced accuracy, integrated spatial and big data empower cities to efficiently generate additional revenue streams via land value capture policies. By accurately assessing increased land values and capturing a portion of that appreciation, municipalities secure funds for financing public infrastructure, services, or affordable housing initiatives, diversifying revenue sources beyond traditional taxes. This improved accuracy ensures fairer and more efficient taxation or levies, ensuring property owners contribute proportionally to the benefits derived from public investments or development.

Smart cities planning. Integrated geospatial information is instrumental in building smart cities. By integrating data from sensors, Internet of Things devices, and geospatial sources, city planners can optimize infrastructure development, improve public transportation networks, and enhance energy management systems.

Transparency and public oversight. Citizen’s easy access to land information promotes transparency and public oversight. When land use schemes, zoning plans, and spatial planning documents are open and accessible, citizens can actively participate in decision-making processes and hold authorities accountable for their actions.

Environmental monitoring. Integrating geospatial data enables comprehensive environmental monitoring. By combining satellite imagery, climate data, and biodiversity information, scientists can track changes in ecosystems, detect patterns of deforestation or pollution, and evaluate the impact of climate change. This approach aids in identifying potential risks and in implementing effective mitigation strategies.

Disaster management. In times of natural disasters or emergencies, integrated geospatial information is invaluable. By merging real-time data on weather patterns, satellite imagery, and population density, emergency responders can efficiently plan and execute disaster response efforts. It facilitates timely evacuation, identifies vulnerable areas, and aids in rescue and recovery operations.

Real estate market and national land use policymaking. The lack of an integrated platform for transparent, accessible, and accurate land information hinders real estate market efficiency and national land use policymaking. Integrating geospatial information into a centralized platform allows for streamlined real estate transactions. Buyers, sellers, and real estate agents can easily access comprehensive and up-to-date information about land parcels, ownership records, zoning regulations, and land use schemes. This transparency reduces transaction costs, minimizes delays, and fosters a more efficient real estate market.

Arbitrary land slot disposals. The introduction of a digital cadastre with integrated geospatial information significantly reduces corruption risks and enhances public oversight. By making land information easily accessible, the system prevents community leaders  from arbitrarily disposing land slots without scrutiny. Citizens and stakeholders can monitor land allocations, ensuring fairness, transparency, and compliance with regulations.

Time and money. The implementation of a digital cadastre reduces corruption risks and saves people’s time and money. Instead of relying on a “cadastre agency” to provide land information upon request, individuals can access the information remotely and at their convenience. This eliminates the need for time-consuming administrative procedures and reduces costs associated with obtaining land-related information. The economic restrictions caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have highlighted the need for and importance of e-government tools to ensure uninterrupted public services during lockdown and post-lockdown periods. For example, the issuance of land ownership certificates for applying for mortgages was suspended for months, effectively freezing the real estate market with consequences for the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Lessons from ADB’s Technical Assistance in Armenia

Armenia, a 30,000 square kilometer landlocked country in the South Caucasus, faces challenges stemming from the absence of a unified, digitized spatial data system that integrates sectoral and thematic cadastres. This fragmentation leads to inconsistencies, errors, and a lack of transparency in land designation, use, and ownership.

The Cadastre Committee of Armenia, a government body, oversees real estate market policies and property rights registration. However, independent field or thematic cadastres by other state agencies lead to data duplication and complexity, hampering interagency collaboration, increasing transaction costs, and causing delays in investment programs.

Outdated cadastral maps further impede disaster evaluation, monitoring land degradation from natural hazards (Armenia being seismically active), assessing climate change impacts, and conducting efforts for vulnerability mapping and recovery.

Through a technical assistance project launched in 2021, ADB has been assisting the Government of Armenia in establishing foundational national geospatial data standards and a national integrated multifunctional geoportal to empower effective land management, enabling economic activities while enhancing e-government capacity.

The project has thus far yielded these lessons:

  • The digitalization processes of a country’s public services should align with a clear strategic vision to ensure the harmonized development of services. Armenia has developed this vision ahead of other upper-middle-income countries in the region, giving ADB the confidence to support the country. The results of ADB assistance are currently being synchronized with the national strategies on digitalization to ensure there is no competition but rather complementarity across agencies.
  • Given the highly technical subject matter, specialized consulting support should be provided to ensure that best practices are appropriately tailored to the capacity context needs of a country. Furthermore, it is essential to introduce innovations that enable a country to vault ahead in technology when necessary, facilitating the integration of AI-enabled applications in the future.
  • Finally, securing counterpart resources, customizing solutions to country context, establishing strong coordination capacity with relevant agencies, and scaling up the initial investments are all vital for the effective integration of geospatial information and for greater development impact.

Merging diverse datasets unlocks valuable insights, enhances land and natural resource management, and addresses complex urban development challenges. From more efficient and equitable land management practices to climate impact and disaster management, integrated geospatial information empowers the creation of a more sustainable and resilient urban future.

Integrated geospatial information has multiple applications and benefits. ADB’s technical assistance in Armenia offers valuable lessons on the effectiveness of combining and analyzing various datasets. This can be replicated in other developing member countries where resource constraints and lack of experience hinder the implementation of such systems.

Maria Pia Ancora
Senior Urban Development Specialist, Water and Urban Development, Sectors Group, Asian Development Bank

With more than two decades of experience, Maria Pia Ancora has designed and implemented sustainable urban infrastructure investments and provided environmental policy advice across Asia (India, Mongolia, Pakistan, PRC, among other countries). She is currently based in Tbilisi and oversees ADB’s urban and climate programs in the South Caucasus region. She holds a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering and Land Use Planning from the University of Trento (Italy) and a PhD in Environmental Science and Engineering from Tsinghua University (PRC).

Paolo Manunta
Senior Digital Technology Specialist (Earth Observation), Digital Technology for Development Division, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Department, Asian Development Bank

Paolo Manunta specializes in Earth Observation, online Geographic Information Systems, and Spatial Data Infrastructure. He joined ADB in 2017 as a secondee from the European Space Agency, and became staff in 2022 to continue his projects, deploying a wide range of applications for disaster reduction, climate change mitigation, AI for land use, and coastal planning. To ensure financial sustainability in ADB developing member countries, Dr. Manunta promotes ADB digital solutions in collaboration with partners from Europe and Asia–Pacific.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

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The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or its Board of Governors or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this publication and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. By making any designation of or reference to a particular territory or geographic area, or by using the term “country” in this document, ADB does not intend to make any judgments as to the legal or other status of any territory or area.