Urbanization in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Northwest China) has gained momentum in the last three decades. The Chinese government supports infrastructure development in this border region and construction sites have been emerging everywhere. Often framed as a planned nation‐state project of sinicization from above, from an ethnographic perspective infrastructure development involves a much more diverse set of actors and their different motives. The construction sector offers a gateway for global and national architectural designs and manpower to enter the making of local cityscapes. Besides engaging with the political economy of construction activities, this article outlines the meaning of the construction site as a place where social and ethnic senses of locality are negotiated. The data show that many of the economic, material, social and design mobilities on the construction site in Xinjiang extend eastwards to the rest of China rather than to Central Asian countries which are geographically much closer. Power relations and ethnic issues become interwoven into the construction of new cityscapes. In particular, the domination of Han actors in the planning and implementation of construction projects shapes not only the materiality of the built environment but also related senses of locality.