Advances in transportation efficiency and diversity will not only allow us to more easily visit more places, it might also allow us to connect with and become a part of new communities.

Although we are still waiting for our flying cars, the future of transportation is sure to yield some interesting developments. Saudi Arabia is attempting to overcome the automobile mindset fueled by cheap gas through the creation of a public transit system that looks more like the set of an epic science fiction movie than a public utility. South Korea is experimenting with in-the-road electric charging for some of its busses, allowing them to ditch the gas powered generator and charging stations that plague a truly all-electric transportation system. Virgin Galactic is mere months away from its first commercial space flight with paying customers.

Further into the future, there are a variety of concepts on the table that will take us from here to there. Tesla Motors publicly released plans for the Hyperloop, a pod-in-a-tube approach that would get you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just over a half hour. Perhaps even more unusual — yet more interesting — is the Horizon System. Train cars will be magnetically picked up while still in motion by a giant autonomous plane and flown to a far away locations. One of the benefits is that riders remain in the same transportation unit for the entire trip, avoiding the need to board, settle into a seat, unboard, and repeat the process for each leg of the trip.

Returning our feet to the ground, transportation is not just simply a way to get around, rather it can reshape our surroundings and ourselves. New York has been making small yet impactful changes to its transportation system, recognizing the space it consumes as some of the most important real estate in the city. Painted parking lots, bus and bike shelters with consistent design language, and streets now closed to cars have increased many metrics, from tax revenue to pedestrian safety. The co-founder of Zip Car, Robin Chase, sees even further reaching benefits to transportation.

“When I talk to people who care about women’s issues or poverty, I want to impress upon them that transportation is the make or break on those issues,” Chase says. “Women in the United States are complete slaves to driving their children around because our transportation system is so car-centric.” Chase is optimistic that a new paradigm that has been coming forward in the last decade will help get us to a place where we can impact some of the more daunting issues.

In my inaugural post on Design Globalism Versus Design Localism, I warned of failing to understand the needs of distant communities, particularly in the context of creating solutions for people we might never truly understand. But transportation innovations could allow us to become a part of communities hundreds or thousands of miles away. While questioning where home is, Pico Iyer recognizes that today we have an unprecedented opportunity for movement, which can result in much more than being a temporary, casual observer of a new place.

When my grandparents were born, they pretty much had their sense of home, their sense of community, even their sense of enmity, assigned to them at birth, and didn’t have much chance of stepping outside of that. And nowadays, at least some of us can choose our sense of home, create our sense of community, fashion our sense of self, and in so doing maybe step a little beyond some of the black and white divisions of our grandparents’ age.

Photo credit: CC BY-SA 2.0: Keifer5448