Florida's smallest city, which spans 33 islands at the north end of the Florida Keys and is home to many more manatees than people, is about to be wiped off the map. The city of Islandia only ever really existed in the minds of developers, who declared it a municipality in 1961 amid plans to blanket the pristine islands in beachfront homes, luxury hotels, and shopping centers, the New York Times finds in a look at the sham city's colorful past. Florida discovered years ago that the town's government had long been illegal and all of its municipal officials—including its first mayor, a former bootlegger—were landowners who lived off the islands and elected themselves in votes held in Miami. County commissioners are expected to abolish the city in a vote next month.
In the '60s, conservationists managed to win the fight to preserve the islands, despite the best efforts of town officials, who bulldozed a 125-foot-wide swath across the archipelago's biggest island in an attempt to sour the federal government on plans to turn it into a park. The islands, home to just five residents, are now part of Biscayne National Park. "You can get the hell out there and restore the soul,” says a 91-year-old who helped lead the fight to preserve the area. “You just go out there and sit in a boat and listen to the quiet. It’s good for the soul. So few places you can do that anymore."