Ever since computers were first developed in the mid 20th century, planners saw an immediate use for them in not only organizing large quantities of data about the city but also in the analysis of that data, the construction of simulation models of how cities functioned, and in forecasting the future form of cities. All these ideas were put in place in the 1950s and 1960s mainly in North America and there were even moves to automate the city planning process itself by formulating models that could generate idealised plans based on data pertaining to the current situation as well as to the specification of future goals.
This technology began with main frame machines where most techniques were operated offline but with increasing networking of computers and miniaturisation down to minicomputers along with the parallel development of personal computers, much of this activity came online. The convergence of communications and computing which has occurred in the last twenty years with the development of the internet and its graphical interface in the form of the world wide web has moved many of these functions into networked environments. The prospect now exists for all stages of the planning.
Read the full article here (pdf link), scheduled to appear in a future print edition of http://www.geospatialtoday.com
Thats an interesting article though it doesnt mention the existing gap between visioning and analyzing the city (accessing vs processing data). Until we see simulation software get out of metropolitan management and academic niche (especially considering the cost per license) there will not be such fast development in this field as we observe how visualisation techniques are evolving.
I like the part saying that any app can be plugged into any other. I couldnt agree more when I do my job with, what I call, generative modeling- plot data + Lidar + dendrology from GIS get translated by my friends custom app (built within hours) into kml and placed in google earth. Small part of my model is here: