Call it an industrial evolution. Birmingham, once smothered in smoke and soot, could soon be covered in green—and reign as the nation's number-one city in park land per capita.

It's a big shift for the old steel town. If all plans take root, Red Mountain Park will reclaim four miles of ridgetop mining lands and become one of America's largest urban parks. To the east, Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, one of the country's biggest urban nature reserves, will add up to 700 acres. The Railroad Reservation Park will revive abandoned blocks downtown. And 65 miles of greenways, built along cleaned-up creeks and railway beds, will stretch from Bessemer to Trussville, connecting parks in between.

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