A sense of community and a desire for better living permeates throughout Burlington, Ont., and its residents wouldn’t have it any other way.

Like a perfect place to lay your head after a long journey, the city of Burlington is a charming oasis of calm at the geographic heart of the hectic, thriving Greater Toronto Area.

Family-owned cafés and flower markets linger next to chiropractic clinics on Brant Street in the city’s downtown core, where everything seems purposeful yet uncomplicated.

The city is thrust, both literally and symbolically, between competing sets of juggernauts: the larger cities of Toronto and Hamilton, which compete for Burlington’s favour and the alternating pulls of Lake Ontario and the majestic Niagara Escarpment, which compete for its heart.

For Burlington mayor Cam Jackson, the city’s unique geography is key to understanding its appeal.

“I always tell people that our doorstep is on Lake Ontario and out backdrop is the escarpment — our city is held together by two magnificent pieces of geography,” Jackson said.

With tree-lined residential streets, large lots and unique, era-hopping houses — which most certainly were not plunked down identically en masse — life in Burlington offers the kind of charm and variety often only seen deep in the countryside — not a short drive from a metropolis like Toronto.

Housing roughly 172,000 people, the well-maintained city of Burlington has an earned reputation as a great place to live for people who work throughout the GTA and appreciate living in a place with a strong sense of community. Compared to many bedroom communities, Burlington residents like to get involved in the daily life of the city with a steady stream of festivals, fundraising events and community programs for adults, children and seniors alike. The goal, Jackson says, is to ensure that everyone in Burlington feels like part of a larger family where everyone joins in.

“People are at the heart of every community — it’s the people who will cause you to stay. If you’re going to live in Burlington, get ready to participate!” Jackson said.

Founded in 1874, Burlington stayed relatively small until blossoming quickly after the end of the Second World War, jumping to a population of 100,000 by the early 1970s and continuing to rise up to its current total of 172,000. The relative youth of the city and its architecture is a great benefit to people looking for the character of a pre-1900 city with the fixings of a fully-equipped, modern city where crime is low and quality of life is high.

“Because we’re a relatively young city, it’s a very big advantage to us because our infrastructure is not as tired,” Jackson said.

One of the city’s biggest draws is its expansive, impressive waterfront which includes one of Canada’s longest publicly-owned beaches in Ontario starting at Spencer Smith Park.

The park’s Waterfront Trail offers unobstructed views of the lake, a bench-lined walkway great for summer walks and groomed park space perfect for a family picnic.

For residents like John Horvat, 39, Burlington embodies a sense of peace and calm hard to find anywhere else in the GTA. Horvat moved to Burlington 12 years ago from his hometown of Hamilton to be closer to his workplace in Mississauga and now happily raises his two four-year-old twins in the city.

“There’s just lots to do for families here and I feel it’s a great city for my kids to grow up in. It’s a little slower-paced here, which is perfect for me,” Horvat said.

Community-conscious homeowners aren’t the only ones heading to Burlington — McMaster University is transplanting its MBA program to Burlington this year to capitalize on the city’s close proximity to Toronto, Mississauga and Hamilton in a move the university expects will triple enrolment in the program.

The city is also starting construction on the new Burlington Performing Arts Centre on its waterfront, which will cost $36 million to complete and will be the largest building project in the town’s history. Slated to open in 2011, the centre is expected to become a centrepiece for culture and entertainment in the city as well as a hub for community events.