Agora is an ancient Greek word meaning an assembly area for civic discussion. Greek towns have made use of agoras for millennia to exchange ideas and build community consensus.
The Actors project in the Sacred City of Messolonghi reinvigorated an ancient practice with a modern platform: community radio.
Like many towns in Greece, Messolonghi has been rocked in the last decade by economic crisis, the closing of institutions and the departure of young people. Public sector measures have at times compounded the sense of turmoil and loss. In 2010, three communities of Messolonghi were merged under a new administrative border as a cost saving measure.
Team Messolonghi sought to bring together public authorities, civil society and a broad swatch of citizens for a joint project whose process could build trust and shared sense of accomplishment — and whose outcome would reinvigorate a culture of citizen participation. They focused especially on engaging young people at risk of leaving the region.
An existing volunteer radio station provided the starting place. “Friends of Radio of Sacred City of Messolonghi,” is a volunteer-run radio station, broadcasting since 1960.
A potent tool for civic engagement, this radio station had been a space to express opinions, hold conversations and build understanding. Anyone can suggest a theme for a radio show, and no specific skills are needed – volunteers train anyone to use the equipment. The result is a diversity of shows reflecting the diversity of the community: shows run by volunteers age 17 to 75 on topics ranging from traditional music, local news, first aid rescue instructions, sports, politics, programming for young children and weekly live broadcasts of cultural events, made possible by mobile equipment.
The main idea: using a familiar platform in an innovative way, and opening it up to new formats and groups.
The Actors team instituted new programs geared at civic participation. They initiated bimonthly broadcasts of Messolonghi municipality board meetings, making it possible for citizens to listen to their representatives during crucial discussions.
Most significantly, they pioneered a new form of neighborhood agora. The first agora dealt with the creation of bioliquid energy stations in a rural area of Messolonghi. The Actors team’s work concentrated on creating a replicable template for the procedure of the agora: the open participation to all citizens and the presentation of all views. The discussion was recorded and broadcast on air and local media partnered to further spread the word.
They launched a weekly radio show about civil society projects from around Europe. Fellow Actors of Urban Change from other cities were interviewed during the show, in English and in Greek. An Actors of Urban Change exhibition in the building shared by the radio station and the town hall drew hundreds of visitors, including various school classes. Their visits connected pupils with the radio station and encouraged them to think of the improvements they would like to see in their own city, aided by the inspiring examples from Actors cities.
Seeing the radio as not just a virtual, but a physical agora, the group undertook a renovation of the radio studios. The renovation allowed the community radio station to keep up with technical developments and to get local young people involved as youth groups lent their time to the construction project. The finale was several public events including an open-air movie, theater on the roof and music in the station’s newly open
backyard. The many citizens who joined the activities learned about the radio station, which many of them only knew ‘on air’ but had never experienced as an a physical convening space in their hometown.