I have been creating a world based on the United Kingdom, set in an alternate timeline/parallel timeline to now. It's focused around one city and its commuter suburbs.

This alternate universe is "realistic" - no sci-fi, no aliens, no immortal humans etc. except for the geographic impossibilities. The geography is the non-realistic part. Other things like politics, economics, transport etc. are intended to be more realistic.

Other differences with the real United Kingdom is that some towns and cities are more important than they are in real life, and there are some business differences, notably:

  • Wigan is a lot larger [especially the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan]
  • Bolton is close to being a city in size. The Metropolitan Borough of Bolton still exists.
  • Bury is also close to being a city in size. The Metropolitan Borough of Bury still exists.
  • Leeds covers a larger conurbation than it currently does.
  • The West Midlands has some additional boroughs within the area.
  • South Gloucestershire is a bit larger than now.

It is a larger-scale version of the United Kingdom, and with more towns and cities than would be possible in the real-life United Kingdom.

Anyway, I am trying to work out how to create a city and commuter suburbs, and work out logically how far people will travel for work etc.

The city name remains as London for the capital - although with key differences, there are new boroughs of London and new commuter towns.

My question is, how can I make my commuter towns interesting and unique enough, and more importantly, since I am developing a map, what software [for Mac OS X El Capitan] is best for doing regional maps?

This universe is mainly done using InDesign or Photoshop for the world's works.

Any advice and guidance is much appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi avenas8808_worldbuilding, and welcome. While we tend to appreciate attention to detail, there seems to be a lot of material in this question that isn't really related to your actual question at all. I would actually recommend that you trim everything that does not directly pertain to the question you are asking; doing so would make it more likely that people read the whole question, leading to better answers for you. You can also use **boldface** (boldface) to emphasize a part of your question if, such as in this case, the actual question is rather buried in the mass of text. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 8 '16 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ Also, you really should only be asking one question in each question. If you want to ask how to make the "commuter towns" (whatever your exact definition of those are) interesting and unique, then you shouldn't also be asking for software recommendations for map making at the same time. For the latter, I recommend that you look over our software-recommendations and map-making tags, lest it may be a duplicate of an existing question. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 8 '16 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ I see you've edited this to shorten it substantially, but I'd suggest it could still be more concise. Perhaps something like this: "How can I model the development of cities and commuter suburbs, taking into consideration how far people will travel for work and any other factors that are important. I’d like to make my commuter towns plausible, interesting and unique." $\endgroup$ – John May 8 '16 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ There are many things wrong with this question. #1 You have tons of irrelevant information. #2 You say "unique enough", but not what enough is. #3 You ask what computer software is best for doing maps, which is not only opinion based but is also entirely separate from the actual program you use. Altogether I think you should split the question into two or three of them, and edit out the useless information. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon May 8 '16 at 22:13

Commuter towns aren't interesting or unique, that's why they're also known as dormitory towns. People only go back there to sleep, they tend to end up like Milton Keynes or Slough (come friendly bombs). Even if they started out as pretty little villages the life gets sucked out of them as the commuter housing is built up.

To keep them interesting or unique you'll have to start with places like St Albans. It's been an important place for a couple of thousand years, it has its own history and identity and even though it's right on the edge of the city it still manages to be a distinct place.

You'll also need to make heavy use of planning regulations and green belts, to maintain gaps between housing areas and architectural identity, rather than indentikit suburban sprawl.

The commute: as John mentioned the average is 30mins. To get to London people will travel up to two hours. If HS2 goes through, Birmingham will fall in the London commuter belt. If you make London any bigger than its current ~1000sqm you're going to start overloading the infrastructure that's already at capacity. It's not just about extending the tube lines, you'd have to run new lines all the way into your business area, bulldozing existing suburbs to run lines and build stations (as per the Metropolitan Line and Crossrail).

How big the commuter zone can be depends entirely on how good the commuter routes are. Forget cars, they don't work here. Thameslink extended the zone from Bedford to Brighton. Crossrail is doing much the same East to West. Southend Airport now thinks it can call itself "London Southend" (don't believe it) because it's in the commuter belt.

90 to 120mins travel is about the top end, though people will travel further. You could attempt to expand this by decentralising, as per Docklands being distinct from the City and a reasonable distance between them. Creating new business and transport hubs in regeneration zones will extend the commuter belt but be careful to avoid your green belt.


I'm assuming you're a Northerner and you mean the Bury that's next to Bolton not Bury St Edmunds which is also just known as "Bury".

Extending Wigan, Bolton and Bury you're going to end up with a single continuous Urban area from Liverpool to Manchester with a northern extension. Which would be slightly larger than London is now. That's going to need some serious upgrades to transport connections to the smaller towns and larger villages in the surrounding area.

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To address one part of your question, it seems that commute times average around 30 minutes in both the US and Europe. There are a number of factors that make this time remarkably stable, which you can read about in this article: How far should you live from work?

Remember that an average commute of 30 minutes makes half of people's commute times longer than this and half shorter. how far people commute depends on the quality of the transport systems, and how far they can travel in an average of 30 minutes.

For mapping software on Mac OSX, try Ortelius.

Finally, making towns interesting and unique means giving them a history and working out the implications of that history:

  • One town might be a planned town, laid out by a famous architect who won a public competition, and designed it to be a utopian garden city. Unfortunately, engineering communities isn't easy and his utopia is now something of a modernist dystopia.
  • Another town might have an historic centre and an old community, with thousands of commuter houses now built on the farmland surrounding it, putting pressure on the historic centre. New retail and service facilities haven't kept up with the more profitable building of houses.
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  • $\begingroup$ You can buy a private island for the cost of anything within 30mins of the City of London $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 8 '16 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ If you can afford a private Island, you don't need to worry about commuting to work at all :) $\endgroup$ – John May 8 '16 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Either the property or the island would be nice, but London is a special case for commuters $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 8 '16 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ No more than New York or other large conurbations. The average commute time of 30 minutes means half of people have higher commute times. I have friends who live and work in London, they just don't own a property there - they rent and live in a sensible commute time. I also had cousins who lived in Brighton and got up at 4.00am to commute to central London by train. Owning a property was a priority for them. Here's an article on UK commute times that says the average in London is 74 mins express.co.uk/life-style/life/493116/… $\endgroup$ – John May 8 '16 at 17:07

I would take a look at Chicago. It has numerous small(er) towns surrounding which are separate in their own right (Aurora, Joliet, Rockford, Kenosha, etc.). These work because of the Metra system, a commuter rail system that runs from these towns directly into the downtown like spokes around a hub. I think this also works because many American cities like Chicago have a very dense, distinct urban core to them: the downtown. If your alternate London and all the cities surrounding it have a strong downtown area around transit, it should be feasible.

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