In the spotlight: Dr. Achilleas Psyllidis

Dr. Achilleas PsyllidisDr. Achilleas Psyllidis is an Assistant Professor of Location Intelligence and Spatial Analysis at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). He is currently leading the Urban Analytics group within the Knowledge and Intelligence Design research group, and is also affiliated with the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute). Achilleas has been affiliated with the LDE centre for BOLD Cities since its establishment.

Could you tell me about your academic background and expertise?

My academic background is quite diverse. I am originally trained in architectural engineering, I then received a postgraduate degree in spatial planning, and in my PhD I combined spatial planning and data science. My current position at TU Delft brings these disciplinary worlds together. In my research I am studying the interplay between aspects of the built environment and the dynamics of human behavior and how this relates to the level of livability and wellbeing. My work adopts several principles of location and systems theories in trying to look at things in tandem. The reason is that if we look at different components individually, say we try to optimize one aspect of the built environment, we might create adverse effects on other aspects.

The centre has an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach at its core. From my point of view, this is really the way to go in the future when it comes to solving the complex societal problems facing cities.

Why do you think that an interdisciplinary approach is important in your research and how do you experience this at the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus center for BOLD cities?

An interdisciplinary approach is at the core of my way of working and I like to  present myself as a scientist whose work spans several disciplines. The increasing complexity of urban environments requires radically new approaches to the ways we study, analyze, and measure cities, and subsequently translate these analyses into meaningful planning, design, and policy guidelines. Monodisciplinary approaches fall short in capturing the numerous and diverse aspects characterizing cities. To better address this complexity, we need to embrace a variety of perspectives and bring together methodological approaches from different scientific disciplines. Within the context of the LDE center for BOLD cities I have had the opportunity to work with researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds on research projects. In the research project ‘Big Data for Youth Policy’ for example, we worked with a team with researchers from Leiden, Delft and Erasmus University that had a background in public administration, social sciences, policy, spatial planning, and data science.  Also, in educational activities of the center for BOLD cities, interdisciplinarity is a key factor. In the LDE minor ‘Smart and Shared Cities’, I teach a module which is called ‘Urban Data Science’. The nice thing about the entire minor, but also the module itself, is that it offers a unique opportunity where we bring together students from the three universities, representing different scientific backgrounds. This year we had 10 or 11 different disciplines, ranging from public administration to aerospace engineering. It is amazing that this cohort of students collectively try to tackle very complex issues related to cities from an interdisciplinary perspective, which I think is the future.

What research are you currently involved in at the centre for BOLD cities?

I am involved in a new BOLD cities Team Science research project on Urban Digital Twins. We started in January 2022 with a team of researchers from LDE. I think that this is a very nice example of interdisciplinary work because it brings together researchers from design, spatial data science, the social sciences and public administration. Urban digital twins gain in popularity across municipalities, yet we are trying to contest them through this project. We perceive them as regimes of (in)visibility and question who and what is included in and excluded from the digital twin of a city, why these choices are made and for what purpose a digital twin is developed. Our research will be specifically focusing on Rotterdam and The Hague. Rotterdam already has an advanced digital twin in place and The Hague is in the process of developing one. We see this as a great opportunity to identify what has been included in and excluded from the digital twin of Rotterdam and to explore in The Hague what their goals and considerations are and where we could possibly also implement the lessons learned from Rotterdam. We also want to get in touch with external parties that are often tasked with the development and implementation of such urban digital twins.

What was your personal motivation to become affiliated with the LDE centre for BOLD cities?

Back when the centre for BOLD cities was first announced, I was still finishing my PhD in Delft and I immediately reached out to Liesbet van Zoonen, because I saw that the center’s perspectives very much aligned with mine. The center has an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach at its core. What I particularly like about the Centre is that it aims to bring the research about the cities outside of the academic ‘ivory towers’ and also wants to bring together different parties, such as municipalities, citizens, businesses and knowledge institutions – so it really follows a quadruple helix approach. From my point of view, this is really the way to go in the future when it comes to solving the complex societal problems facing cities.