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Behind the Upper Thomson staircase mural

By January 1, 1970No Comments

How did this simple staircase along Upper Thomson Road used as a shortcut by residents become a new landmark in the neighbourhood? Here are 5 insights on how this came about and how it is inspiring others.


1. Champion behind the staircase

The champion behind this now well-known staircase is Joanne Teh, a resident of Yew Lian Park and president of the Yew Lian Park Residents’ Association, a landed housing estate located off Upper Thomson Road. The dilapidated staircase has been around for a long time and serves a shortcut commonly used by residents to access the shophouses and the Upper Thomson MRT Station. 

Upper Thomson staircase before it was improved

The staircase before it was enhanced. Image credit: Yew Lian Park Residents’ Association. 


When Joanne heard about the Lively Places Fund that could support enhancements to public spaces, she came up with the idea to install a handrail and paint a mural on the staircase to make it safer and more attractive for residents and visitors. 

She tapped on the Lively Places Fund to engage an artist to help design and paint the mural and a contractor to help improve the staircase as well.

Joanne Teh, the champion behind the Upper Thomson staircase mural

The champion behind the Upper Thomson staircase mural, Joanne Teh. Image credit: Joanne Teh, taken by Isk Iskandar.


2. Activating public spaces around us

Administered by URA and the Housing & Development Board, the Lively Places Fund has been around since 2019 to support and inspire communities and individuals like Joanne Teh to help improve and activate public spaces around us. 

The fund also supported the delightful 240-metre artwork on the hoarding along the North-South Corridor at Kampong Gelam.

3.Kopi-chats to share stories

The process of improving the staircase involved rallying over 20 residents and artist volunteers to help with the works at various stages. 

The residents also joined two kopi-chats with the artist, Muhammad Izdi, to share stories about the neighbourhood, which inspired many of the images in the final mural on the staircase.

Upper Thomson staircase mural resident workshop

One of the Kopi chats to gather stories for the staircase mural. Image credit: Yew Lian Park Residents’ Association.


For example, the mural features the Imperial Theatre in the area, which used to be popular with residents and also features animals such as monkeys and wild boars that often frequent the area. It took Joanne and the team of residents and volunteers six months to plan and carry out the improvement works for the staircase, and they completed the mural painting by October 2022. 

Upper Thomson staircase mural showing the Imperial Theatre

A ticket stub of Imperial Theatre is featured on the mural. It was an open-air theatre that was popular with the residents in the area. Image credit: Yew Lian Park Residents’ Association.


4. Its own Google pin

The improved staircase has not only made it safer to use (around 250 households use this as a shortcut, of which many are seniors), it has also become an attractive landmark for the estate as an instagrammable spot. It even has its own Google map pin!

Upper Thomson staircase mural google pin

Google Maps pin on the Upper Thomson staircase mural.


5. Inspiring others 

This has spurred Joanne on to want to implement more projects, and she has inspired her friends in other neighbourhoods to do the same too. 

The Advisor for the area was encouraged to work with the People’s Association to support the implementation of new special seating at the base of the staircase to make it even more attractive as a public space for people to relax in.

The Advisor launching the Upper Thomson staircase mural

Minister Chee Hong Tat, MP for Bishan Toa Payoh GRC, launching the staircase mural on 9 Oct 2022.


Inspired to enhance and activate a public space in your neighbourhood or anywhere else in Singapore? You can tap on the Lively Places Fund to support your ideas. 

For more information about the fund and to apply for it, go to www.go.gov.sg/livelyplacesfund


Thumbnail image credit: Yew Lian Park Residents’ Association.


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