If you want to have a Calgary community that outpaces all others in population growth, with lots of children and young families, it helps to have a lake.

“That all-season amenity – with 43 acres of lake, clubhouse and beach – was the number-one draw for families in Auburn Bay,” said Jason Palacsko, vice-president of Calgary communities for developer Brookfield Residential.

He adds the community also benefits from its parks and pathways, urban development, and location next to the Seton Urban district, which includes the South Health Campus hospital and recently opened Brookfield Residential YMCA.

Auburn Bay has consistently seen Calgary’s highest growth numbers. It’s also the Calgary community with the most pre-school children (newborn to five years old) as a percentage of total population, according to the 2018 civic census.

However, as this southeast community is virtually complete, and lakes remain a rare neighbourhood amenity, what other features draw families to a community?

“While in the past we may have dedicated large, open play areas, now we find it’s more important to have a variety of multi-age playgrounds in short walking distance from homes.” – Clark Piechotta, Qualico Communities

In Evanston, which has also seen record growth when it comes to young families, the key is a variety of parks, playgrounds and trails that create a sense of connectedness, says Clark Piechotta, associate director of development at Qualico Communities.

Evanston’s northwest location and affordable housing options draw growing families to larger homes on smaller lots, without a lot of backyard play space.

“While in the past we may have dedicated large, open play areas, now we find it’s more important to have a variety of multi-age playgrounds in short walking distance from homes,” said Piechotta. “We spend more time and effort in design for everything from climbing walls to natural rock structures.”

Increasingly, Piechotta says, parks have also become more accessible and inclusive to children of all degrees of mobility.

Evanston is in its final phase, but the lessons Qualico learned there have been applied in Redstone, where parks have exercise equipment, and Crestmont West, where discussions with homeowners led to improved park shelter, says Valerie Gibbons, Qualico’s associate development manager.

Crestmont’s newest 3.75-acre park features a shaded pergola with seating that is surrounded by 152 trees, seven benches, five picnic tables, a large play structure, basketball courts and bike racks. It’s all accessible via the area’s 6.4-kilometre pathway system.

Palacsko say Brookfield sees a continued emphasis on healthy, outdoor living in new communities, including dog parks for families’ four-legged friends. The company is constantly engaged in market research, since taking a community from planning to sales can take a decade, as was the case for its new Livingston project in Calgary’s north.

Increasingly, Palacsko says, buyers want major amenities in place at the beginning of a community’s life cycle, which is why Livingston’s 30,000-square-foot Homeowners Association – with community kitchen, banquet space, NHL-sized hockey rink and splash park – is already under construction.