Today, Columbus is a center in the world of transportation research as the city implements a major federal grant for transportation innovation.

In the next few years, we can expect to see some major improvements in how we get ourselves and the things we make and sell from place to place.

We also can expect to see some changes in how we live with these new forms of transportation. It would not be the first time a new way to move about has changed how we live.

One example is the horse.

For most of their history, the native inhabitants of North America had no easy way to travel from place to place except by foot.

Rational people did not try to rope and train a bison, elk or moose for genteel riding.

Then, in 1519, Hernan Cortes and his conquistadors arrived in America -- with their horses.

Eventually, some of the horses found their way to the wild, and the Great Plains residents of Native America became riders, as well.

By the 1800s, the Lakota had become, in the view of one observer, "the greatest light cavalry on Earth."

The arrival of horses in large numbers in the Americas had some impact on how people in colonial America lived. Streets became a bit wider and urban traffic became more crowded, but the basic structure of the city did not change much.

For most of its early history, Columbus, like most of America, was a "walking city."

While horses were present in most towns and villages, they were not the way most people got around.

Most people would not go to the livery stable, or even to the barn behind the house, and saddle a horse to travel two blocks to see a friend.

From the time Columbus was founded as a frontier capital in 1812, most people in town walked to most of the places they wished to visit. They walked to church; they walked to work; they walked to the market. And after walking to all these places, they walked home.

Since the Middle Ages, cities generally had been designed for walking -- when they were designed at all. Streets tended to be narrow and blocks often were short. Wealthier people lived near the town square so the journey to places to seek profit or pleasure was only a short walk away.

People who were not so well off lived farther away from the middle of town. In time, with the arrival of railroads, the less-fortunate people of the city were removed to "the other side of the tracks."

But most major American cities didn't follow this pattern. Often in Columbus, people of wealth and standing live some distance from downtown, while the economically challenged live closer to the center.

The change in how cities look and act began with streetcars.

The first streetcar appeared on the streets of Columbus in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War.

Running on a single track along High Street between what is now Nationwide Boulevard and Livingston Avenue, the open, horse-drawn streetcars were hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

But in Civil War-era Columbus, they were popular -- and they maintained their popularity after the war in a time when labor and materials were cheap.

It was not long before the High Street line had competitors.

In the 1870s, Columbus was served by a number of independent streetcar companies.

By the early 1890s, most of the streetcar companies had been combined, and the resulting consolidated company electrified its streetcars.

As the streetcar lines advanced into the open country outside the city limits, so too did residential real estate. Now it was possible to live 2, 3 or even 4 miles from the city and still make a 30- to 60-minute journey to work.

The result was "streetcar suburbs," many of which remain with us today. Those who travel in any direction from the middle of downtown Columbus soon will encounter neighborhoods of large homes on wide streets with the houses close to one another. Their residents did not need a large lot to keep a stable for a horse if the streetcar stop was only a block away.

In time, the streetcar suburb would be followed by the automobile suburbs of the 1920s and beyond.

But the pattern of growth was set by the streetcar, ever outward from the center of the city. Only in the late 20th century would we see a new direction with the revival of historic inner-city neighborhoods.

Movement to the edge of an ever-larger urban area continues, as well.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.