November 21st 2017
For over eighty years, the Planetary Development Bureau (PDB) has been working with local authorities to not only oversee the zoning of building plots, but to mediate and supervise the sale of land claims for commercial and private use. This vital agency has become such a commonplace part of our lives that its importance is often overlooked today. Rather than tallying up all of the Bureau’s accomplishments in regulating this important aspect of the Empire’s growth, the best way to demonstrate the agency’s past legacy and current significance is to look back at the turbulent history of what land claims were like before the PDB’s founding.
As Humans first began to spread throughout the Sol system in the early 22nd century, disputes over land claims were common and would frequently escalate into physical altercations. Earth had become severely overcrowded and people were desperate to escape its confines. The disparate nations that governed the planet had begun to work together on solutions, but could not agree on a land use policy. Each was wary of the others trying to gain disproportionate control over the unclaimed territory, and fear over the amassing of political power left Humanity’s expansion largely unregulated. Not only were there multiple incidents of asteroid miners waging sabotage campaigns against their rivals’ outposts, but with the terraformation of Mars underway, speculators were eagerly trying to grab as much of the valuable land as they could. Historian Dr. Kailanni Boden dubbed the era the ‘Red Diaspora,’ “not only because the red planet was the focus of the settlement, but because of the violence commonly associated with the Martian territorial disputes.”
Determined not to repeat those mistakes when Humans began settling their first extrasolar system, Croshaw, the governing committee established the Freeman Act to help regulate the dispersal of land rights. Under the act, settlers would be guaranteed a place to homestead. Disputes could be filed with the Freeman Office and settled through official means, rather than the parties taking matters into their own hands as they had so often before. The Freeman Act was deemed such a success that when the United Nations of Earth was formed a short time later in 2380, included in its original statutes was the creation the Office of Land Development to continue regulating land claim registration.
Despite the improvements the office brought with it, many at the time chose to operate outside of the law since the fees associated with illegal land development were often considered less cumbersome than following the proper protocols. With the land rush in full swing, waiting for paperwork to clear could cost a developer a massive amount of funds. Such was the case in 2530 when Gaia Planet Services decided to go ahead and begin illegally terraforming what would reveal itself to be an alien-occupied world. That incident in the Pallas system not only nearly kicked off an interspecies war between Humanity and the Xi’an, but it showed that time for greater regulation had arrived.
When Ivar Messer became Imperator a few years later in 2546, one of his first policies was to declare eminent domain over the newly forged empire. To legally develop or settle any parcel of land, irrespective of who discovered it, one would first have to apply to the Office of Land Development for permission. It soon became obvious that those who had cultivated the Messers’ favor were significantly more likely to be granted valuable land rights. By the 27th century, the Directorship of the Office of Land Development had become one of the most coveted positions within the Empire, thanks to ever more blatant practice of corporations offering generous kickbacks to have regulatory decisions go their way. Company records uncovered after the dissolution of the Hathor Group revealed that they had allocated a large slush fund specifically for donations to the then-Director’s personal charity fund.
With the fall of the Messers in 2792, the newly formed government attempted to reform the Office of Land Development, but it would continue to be plagued by accusations of corruption and cronyism. In a 2861 Wightman Award-winning piece, the Terra Gazette exposed how the office continued to favor large corporations and wealthy individuals, often illegally granting them preferential treatment over the rightful claims of average Citizens. Many government officials were forced to resign as their questionable behavior came to light, and in one instance Shubin Interstellar was required to return a sizeable parcel of land they had been developing for mining. In the wake of the scandal, the Senate decided that the best approach to the problem would be to start with a clean slate. On November 21, 2862, the Office of Land Development was officially shut down and the Planetary Development Bureau was launched to oversee all land regulation.
From its very foundation, the Bureau was designed to bring transparency and fairness to every step of the process. Even the landmark sale of the Stanton system to private corporations was handled with an unexpected amount of openness when compared to the Bureau’s predecessor. With a streamlined claims process in place, it has become easier for licenses to be acquired, leading to a sharp rise in territory being registered legally. These transactions generate more tax revenue as well as ensure that landowners actually receive the rights and protections accorded to them under the law.
Recently, there has been a major push to encourage the settlement and development of the Empire’s frontier. As part of this initiative, the PDB has been making additional parcels of land accessible to the public for purchase. It is believed by policymakers that as sectors become more developed, they likewise become more secure. Statistics from recent studies show that it is significantly harder for outlaws and Vanduul raiding parties to gain purchase in UEE-controlled systems when there are settlers and companies with vested interests in ensuring the protection of that territory. Combine this with Consolidated Outland’s recent introduction of a self-contained colonization platform, and many are expecting to see a new golden age of land development in the second half of the 30th century.