Marshall McLuhan vs. Jane Jacobs

The man who helped us understand media takes on the woman who helped us understand cities

Marshall McLuhan

Why he’s famous: Most of all, for his famously misunderstood phrase, “the medium is the message.”

Why he deserves to win: As the the father of modern mass media theory and an early philosopher of the electronic age, McLuhan changed the way people relate to information. Best known for coining the expressions “global village” and “the medium is the message” (which meant that the way we acquire information shapes us more than the information itself), his two major books—The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media—still have a cult following. Though he died before the advent of the Internet, McLuhan seemed to see it coming: he theorized electronic media was creating a global village by exposing people to events on the opposite side of the world which would render books obsolete. Ask Barnes and Noble if he was right.

Jane Jacobs

Why she’s famous: Her groundbreaking tome, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is still considered a bible by architects and city planners.

Why she deserves to win: Just as McLuhan changed the way we relate to information, Jacobs revolutionized the way we think about our cities. A lifelong social activist, Jacobs was a vehement critic of urban renewal projects that called for the razing and rebuilding of neighbourhoods. Instead, Jacobs proposed abolishing zoning laws to create dense, mixed-use neighborhoods.

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