Like their zemstvo counterparts, the municipal dumas played a major role in determining the quality of life in tsarist Russia from the Great Reforms until the Revolution in 1917. During this period of rapid urban growth, the dumas had the authority to regulate housing conditions. They bore major responsibility for ensuring an appropriate level of public health and sanitation, welfare and social services and for developing public education, transportation, parks, and recreational facilities.
The restrictive municipal “counter reform” of 1892 destroyed some of the promise of urban self-government, however, and with few exceptions, city government entered the twentieth century with a reputation for apathy, indolence, and indifference to all but the narrow concerns of the tiny propertied elite to whom local affairs had been entrusted. Perhaps Den', a leftist paper, was too harsh when it characterized the record of a St. Petersburg duma as one of “criminal indifference and cynical unconcern.” But recently historians have taken a similar, if less biting view: