The film concentrates primarily on family life, and more specifically on the raising of children. It opens with a look back at pre-industrial America, moving quickly into the modern city. The chaotic industrial and commercial cities shown in the film subsequently give way to the idyillic "new city" of Greenbelt, Maryland. Constructed as a New Deal project, Greenbelt highlights the importance of recreation in the proper upbringing of children, as well as in the making of a stable family life.
It was adapted by Lewis Mumford from the story by Pare Lorentz, and was directed by Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, with music by Aaron Copland. According to Peter Oberlander and Eva Newbrun, the film was the idea of Catherine Bauer. It was produced for the 1939 New York World's Fair as part of the "City of Tomorrow" exhibit. Bauer's original idea was to commission a full-scale mini neighborhood on a 10-acre (4.0 ha) site to showcase innovative housing design and community planning. This was to be done in conjunction with MoMA. When the plan was dropped for lack of time and resources, Bauer came up with the idea of the film. Robert Kohn agreed and commissioned it. At the end of 1937, Henwar Rodakiewicz moved to New York to assist Steiner in the production, doing everything from writing, editing and general facilitation tasks.