This paper offers an interpretive framework linking polycentric urban expansion in emerging/frontier economies to the global extension of infrastructure networks. Drawing from scholarship on state restructuring, we theorize an infrastructure scramble whereby numerous state actors and agencies make massive investments in infrastructure connectivity to secure effective integration to transnational value chains as economic and geopolitical competition intensify. This has manifold territorial implications, and matters for debates on planetary urbanization. Novel urbanization processes include the proliferation of peri-urban nodes. Built in cheaply available land, these respond to (or anticipate economic gains from) enhanced connective infrastructure. In contrast to city-regional exemplars, project-led polycentrism does not arise from territorially decentralized governance arrangements, and may deepen peri-urban exclusion. The paper includes an experimental comparison of two peri-urban nodal projects: the Iranduba University City (IUC), located in a riparian rainforest of the Brazilian Amazon 17 miles from bustling Manaus, and the Bagamoyo Port and Special Economic Zone, located 35 miles north of the congested port of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s expansive capital. Our findings suggest that: (i) techno-entrepreneurial capacity requirements underpin the centralist scalar politics governing the development of peri-urban nodes; as (ii) state-led projects rely on ambitious physical planning, with masterplans evincing elite, globalization-oriented objectives that neglect local needs and trigger displacement and (iii) even failing projects spearhead varying trajectories of territorial transformation in erstwhile-stagnant peri-urban peripheries. Concluding, we call for further research on multiple drivers and modalities of polycentrism in the global South, and the infrastructure scramble’s broad implications for hyper-connected and bypassed territories.