In 2013, JP Viñals joined Activists Coming To Inform Our Neighborhood (ACTION), a leadership group in the Hunts Point neighborhood of South Bronx, NY. His aim was to further his knowledge about the environmental and social issues facing his neighborhood. Hunts Point houses New York’s largest food distribution center. This means an average of 15,000 trucks ply its expressways and streets on a daily basis, making the streets unsafe for local residents and causing immense air pollution. The neighborhood has some of the highest asthma rates in the country.
Viñals was especially interested in creating green spaces to alleviate air pollution and in teaching youth how grow their own food. A year into his time with ACTION, he was voted president. He then focused the group’s work on championing a campaign to transform the defunct Sheridan Expressway into a vibrant boulevard. The 1.25-mile expressway restricts access to the revitalized Bronx River, new parks and the South Bronx Greenway. It forces trucks to drive through neighborhood streets and cars to idle in traffic, harming pedestrians and restricting safe biking.
A long-running campaign, spearheaded by the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, seeks to demolish the expressway and replace it with affordable housing, hospitals and green open space. Viñals’ group has been supporting the campaign by leading presentations about it at various South Bronx schools, attending town hall meetings, and organizing a first-of-its-kind youth summit focused on educating local youth and their parents about the environmental issues facing South Bronx.