A Paul Smith suit and a bit of a tan make me pass for Bernardo Bertolucci's younger brother, she says

I am often - no, that's not true - I am sometimes asked what it is we design gurus do all day. Well, right now I am preparing a seminar about creativity for a convention of an international drinks company in Berlin. You are right to think that this is not the sort of thing the careers master at school might have suggested, but if I had listened to him I would still be in the architects' department of the Liverpool Corporation, working on bus shelters. Besides, the thing about creativity is to expect the unexpected. So what am I going to say to the eager delegates ? Well, the single best account of the creative process that I know stands as a stirring rebuke to the pollsters, marketeers, focus groupies and all those other pseudo-scientists who so insistently and unhelpfully come between ideas and action. It is this: one of the great inventors working for the 3M Corporation described the happy accident that led to the invaluable Post-it Note. "If I knew what I was doing, it wouldn't be research." Philip Gould, of course, knows exactly what he is doing.

The trouble with our institutions is that they are all run by philistines. Nothing else can explain their refusal to see that what compromises London as what we nowadays have to call a visitor attraction is not a lack of branding, merchandising or sloganeering. It is the squalor and slovenliness of the streets, with their impudent road works, civil neglect, ankle-deep litter, trashy souvenir stalls, overpriced taxis and filthy buses. The people in charge simply do not see. Just the other day, I asked the chairman of the Design Council about his shirt. He told me he never noticed what he put on. A frivolous narcissism would - perhaps - be unwelcome in so important an individual, but even so, a little aesthetic sensitivity would not be out of place.

With a house in SW8 and an office in (the illogically contiguous) SE11, I live and work right on the capital's most controversial fault-line: Comrade Ken's Congestion Charging Zone, the city's new frontier. London's old borders and their uncrossable barriers fascinate me: there is the putrid sewer of Oxford Street, but just yards away the genteel refinement of Marylebone. And Ebury Street divides by mere feet the fragrant, international super-rich of Belgravia from the occasionally malodorous nannies returning to Poznan via Victoria Coach Station. But these old frontiers have their logic based on history and custom and everyone respects them. The absurd CCZ, on the other hand, because it is so insensitive and impractical, has the amazing effect of uniting an entire community in a symphony of indignant protest: locals and visitors, tradesmen, walkers, cyclists, racing drivers. Everyone is against it. No doubt traffic volume needs to be controlled and, yes, let's by all means use the price mechanism to do it, but the CCZ is so arbitrarily maladroit that an admirable policy of reducing congestion and pollution loses credibility and respect. It should be the London Orbital M25, and the price of entry £50. Keep everyone out.

One of the survival characteristics for coping in a magnificent urban catastrophe such as London is to have your own private, internal map of the city. No one can manage it all, so you have to edit. The north and the west are to me as alien as Tallinn or Rostock, but others have their own preferences. People in Chiswick, I mean, would never go to Dulwich, unless kidnapped. But one thing all Londoners agree on is the death of the West End, a sleazy parody that attracts only shuffling, incurious tourists and shell-shocked out-of-towners. Soho has lost its seedy, edgy charm to become an exhibition of predictable branded coffee bars and formulaic restaurants.

Instead of wasting money on fatuous promotions such as the recent feeble-minded UK OK campaign, the British Tourist Authority should do us all a favour and merge with BAA. The airport business prefers not to provide clean, dignified, quiet spaces to wait for your plane; rather it seeks to inundate fretful travellers with garish shopping. If you do not have an "executive" card to claim sanctuary with an accommodating airline, it is simply not possible to find a civilised bar or restaurant at Heathrow. Instead, you must buy provocative knickers, cashmere socks, DVDs or whisky in a hectic clamour. Terminal Three is the worst, a good working diagram of Hell. Being cheap and nasty, it is actually surprisingly like Oxford Street. If only T3 could in some way be directly and hermetically and perpetually linked to the West End, with visitors on a closed loop, the map of London would be sanitised and much improved.

At lunch the other day, one of the most attractive women in British media leant over and said: "You look so Italian. Just like Bernardo Bertolucci's younger brother." While still analysing the ageist nuances, I was not at all displeased with this judgement (hence its repetition here). Readers may want to know the formula. Paul Smith suit (made, in fact, in Italy); haircut by Bev at Richard Ward in Chelsea, and the very lightest of tans following a week of icy winter sun in Venice. All that and a little bit of muscle tone from a very great deal of tennis. I play as often as possible with the Wimbledon commentator Bill Threlfall, a maestro di tennis from Ventimiglia in 1947, hence old enough to be Signor Bertolucci's nonno. This may seem extravagant, but hitting balls is cheaper than psychotherapy. A guru's life is not always an easy one: it is very stressful always being right.

This article first appeared in the 04 February 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Revealed: how Labour sees women