A "stakeholder" is someone who holds the stakes of a wager. It connotes a trusted, neutral party, someone disinterested in the outcome.
This is the neighborhood activist's favorite word. Whenever there's a development to obstruct, you can bet an NA lurks nearby to complain that the developer showed too little deference to the "stakeholders."
The NA most definitely does not use this word to mean a neutral party. Just the opposite: he means himself and other local homeowners. Actually, that's too broad -- he means himself and the other dues-paying members of the local homeowners' association. This is hardly a neutral and disinterested bunch.
Why do NA's love this word? It's not just their love of jargon (although you can be sure that anyone who uses "stakeholder" in a sentence will chase it with plenty of "FLUMs," "SF-3s" and "TODs"). And although "stakeholder" sounds more dignified than "activist," "advocate," or plain old "homeowner," I don't think that is why it's so popular with the status quoers either.
No, I think NAs love "stakeholder" because it is a very effective way for them to dismiss opposing views. They've worked very hard to make "stakeholder" a synonym for "representatives of the local neighborhood association." And they've succeeded. Even Council staffmembers use the word as a euphemism for the neighborhood group representatives.
But this means that if you're not a local NA, then you're not a stakeholder. If you're not a stakeholder, then you've got no stake in the outcome. If you've got no stake in the outcome, then why should anyone care what you think? Opposing views are thereby effectively neutralized.
It is nonsense, of course, to restrict "stakeholders" to the homeowners in the vicinity of a proposed development. Lots of people likely will have an acute interest in the project. (The property owner and developer have the biggest stakes of all.) If the project is to be a residential development, renters in the area have an interest in seeing their rents stabilized; more competition means smaller rent increases. Renters in the 'burbs who can't find places close in to town have a stake in more rental units being built. If the project's on a busy road like South Lamar, thousands of drivers a day have an interest in a new bookstore, clothing store, or Starbucks being built. The City has an interest in the extra tax revenue. And lots of us like dense urban projects -- we've got a stake too.
In short, the community has a stake in the typical development project. It's time to recongize this, and to stop NAs from misappropriating this word for their own cause. Developers should meet with the stakeholders; just make sure the real stakeholders are in the room.