The challenges for liveable, healthy and food secure cities worldwide are immense to future developments due to a worldwide increase in urban population, pressure on natural resources including water and biodiversity, climate change, as well as economic volatility. The quality of life in urban areas fully depends upon how people deal with each other and with their environment through transitions towards improved sustainability. The way in which stakeholder involvements occur through transition of marginalised urban areas is unclear. Against this background, the core challenge addressed in this article is: What stakeholder contributions are judged appropriate for transitions towards increased urban sustainability? Exploring recent literature (2013–2016), based on a total of 94 selected articles, it appears that stakeholder contributions have at least three different meanings in the urban sustainability literature; 1) stakeholder based initiatives, 2) government based initiatives and 3) science based initiatives. The three different approaches impact a stakeholder role in the society in different ways, within the scope of the core societal trends of increased use of ICT, globalization, and the changing roles of state and science.