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Various tribes lived in or around Hartford, all part of the Algonquin people. These included the Podunks, mostly east of the Connecticut River; the Poquonocks north and west of Hartford; the Massacoes in the Simsbury area; the Tunxis tribe in West Hartford and Farmington; the Wangunks to the south; and the Saukiog in Hartford itself.
The first Europeans known to have explored the area were the Dutch under Adriaen Block, who sailed up the Connecticut in 1614. Dutch fur traders from New Amsterdam returned in 1623 with a mission to establish a trading post and fortify the area for the Dutch West India Company. The original site was located on the south bank of the Park River in the present-day Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood. This fort was called Fort Hoop or the "House of Hope." In 1633, Jacob Van Curler formally bought the land around Fort Hoop from the Pequot chief for a small sum. It was home to perhaps a couple families and a few dozen soldiers. The fort was abandoned by 1654, but the area is known today as Dutch Point; the name of the Dutch fort "House of Hope" is reflected in the name of Huyshope Avenue.
The Dutch outpost and the tiny contingent of Dutch soldiers who were stationed there did little to check the English migration, and the Dutch soon realized that they were vastly outnumbered. The House of Hope remained an outpost, but it was steadily swallowed up by waves of English settlers. In 1650, Peter Stuyvesant met with English representatives to negotiate a permanent boundary between the Dutch and English colonies; the line that they agreed on was more than 50 miles (80 km) west of the original settlement.
The English began to arrive in 1636, settling upstream from Fort Hoop near the present-day Downtown and Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhoods.Puritan pastors Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone, along with Governor John Haynes, led 100 settlers with 130 head of cattle in a trek from Newtown in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (now Cambridge) and started their settlement just north of the Dutch fort. The settlement was originally called Newtown, but it was changed to Hartford in 1637 in honor of Stone's hometown of Hertford, England. Hooker also created the nearby town of Windsor in 1633. The etymology of Hartford is the ford where harts cross, or "deer crossing."
The fledgling colony along the Connecticut River was outside of the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's charter and had to determine how it was to be governed. Therefore, Hooker delivered a sermon that inspired the writing of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, a document ratified January 14, 1639 which invested the people with the authority to govern, rather than ceding such authority to a higher power. Historians suggest that Hooker's conception of self-rule embodied in the Fundamental Orders inspired the Connecticut Constitution, and ultimately the U.S. Constitution. Today, one of Connecticut's nicknames is the "Constitution State".
The original settlement area contained the site of the Charter Oak, an old white oak tree in which colonists hid Connecticut's Royal Charter of 1662 to protect it from confiscation by an English governor-general. The state adopted the oak tree as the emblem on the Connecticut state quarter. The Charter Oak Monument is located at the corner of Charter Oak Place, a historic street, and Charter Oak Avenue.
On December 15, 1814, delegates from the five New England states (Maine was still part of Massachusetts at that time) gathered at the Hartford Convention to discuss New England's possible secession from the United States. During the early 19th century, the Hartford area was a center of abolitionist activity, and the most famous abolitionist family was the Beechers. The Reverend Lyman Beecher was an important Congregational minister known for his anti-slavery sermons. His daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin; her brother Henry Ward Beecher was a noted clergyman who vehemently opposed slavery and supported the temperance movement and women's suffrage. The Stowes' sister Isabella Beecher Hooker was a leading member of the women's rights movement.
In 1860, Hartford was the site of the first "Wide Awakes", abolitionist supporters of Abraham Lincoln. These supporters organized torch-light parades that were both political and social events, often including fireworks and music, in celebration of Lincoln's visit to the city. This type of event caught on and eventually became a staple of mid-to-late 19th-century campaigning.
Industrialist and inventor Samuel Colt and his wife Elizabeth had a great influence on Hartford's development in the 100 years after independence. Colt is often considered the father of the Connecticut River Valley industrial revolution, although there were a handful of small outfits already in operation by the time that he purchased a large tract of land in the area in the 1840s.
In 1836, Connecticut-born Colt received a U.S. patent for a revolver mechanism which enabled a gun to be fired multiple times without reloading. Sales were initially slow and his business ventures struggled. Then the U.S. government ordered 1,000 Colt revolvers in 1846, with the Mexican–American War under way. In 1848, Colt was able to start again with a new business of his own, and he converted it into a corporation in 1855 under the name of Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company. The original factory is situated in the Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood just south of downtown Hartford.
With business booming by 1855, Colt entered an aggressive expansionary phase and opened the Colt Armory, the world's largest private armament factory. He employed advanced manufacturing techniques such as interchangeable parts and an organized production line. By 1856, the company could produce 150 weapons per day. The Civil War led to a surge in demand, and Colt supplied the Union Army. Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company operated at full capacity and employed over 1,000 people in its Hartford factory. By that time, Colt had become one of the wealthiest men in America. He was presiding over his enterprise from Armsmear, an ornate Italianate manor built near the armory in 1857. Upon his death in 1862, he was worth over $15 million ($380 million by 2015 standards).
Colt's methods were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, and his successes secured Hartford's place as a major 19th century manufacturing center. It is estimated that his company produced over 400,000 revolvers in its first 25 years of manufacturing. His use of interchangeable parts helped him become one of the first to exploit the assembly line. Moreover, his innovative use of art, celebrity endorsements, and corporate gifts to promote his wares made him a pioneer in the fields of advertising, product placement, and mass marketing. His business practices were also innovative, involving a shrewd use of patents to protect his products, as well as new developments in marketing and business organization to create a highly successful business which long outlived him.
Elizabeth Colt inherited a controlling interest in her late husband's manufacturing company following his death in 1862. At the time, Colt firearms were producing an estimated 1/996th of the entire gross national product of the United States. She steered the company until 1901 with her brother Richard Jarvis as president, becoming one of the most prominent female industrialists in America. Together they transitioned the company from the end of the American Civil War into the 20th century, seeing the evolution from percussion revolvers to cartridge revolvers to semiautomatic pistols and machineguns.
In addition, the Colts left an indelible imprint on Hartford's architectural environment. Samuel Colt was inspired by what he had seen during a trip to London in 1851, and he embarked upon one of the boldest real estate development campaigns in Hartford's history. His intention was to build an industrial community to house his workers adjacent to the Colt Armory. By 1856, it was a city within a city, where workers of many nationalities and religions worked and lived alongside one another. Coltsville was among the first of America's 19th century company towns, and it was easily the most advanced of its time—though not the largest, the most prominent, or the most tightly controlled. Colt's complex also included the largest armory in the world, as well as wharf and ferry facilities on the Connecticut River.
A major fire destroyed the original armory in 1864, but Elizabeth Colt had it rebuilt, including its most dramatic feature: the blue onion dome with gold starts, topped by a gold orb and a rampant colt, the original symbol of Colt Manufacturing Company. The Colt Armory is visible to commuters on I-91 and stands as a monument to Hartford's first "celebrity industrialist" and the once mighty empire that he created.
Elizabeth Colt dedicated her final decades to philanthropy and public works. She commissioned the Church of the Good Shepherd in 1866 as a monument to her husband; the adjacent parish house was built in 1895 and is dedicated to the memory of her son. The ensemble is built in High Victorian Gothic style, and architectural features include a variety of gun parts, such as bullet molds, gun sights, and cylinders—likely the only church in the world with a gun motif.
With no remaining children, Elizabeth willed her extensive collection of rare art to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, one of the oldest art galleries in America. The Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt Memorial Wing was the first American museum wing to bear the name of a female patron.
When Elizabeth Colt died in 1904, she willed the majority of her estate Armsmear to the City of Hartford for use as a public park. Today the 105 acres (42 ha) Colt Park serves the community with a number of athletic fields, playgrounds, a swimming pool, skating rink, and Dillon Stadium.
Hartford was a major manufacturing city from the 19th century until the mid-20th century. During the Industrial Revolution into the mid-20th century, the Connecticut River Valley cities produced many major precision manufacturing innovations. Among these was Hartford's pioneer bicycle and automobile maker Pope. Many factories have been closed or relocated, or have reduced operations, as in nearly all former Northern manufacturing cities.
Around 1850, Hartford native Samuel Colt perfected the precision manufacturing process that enabled the mass production of thousands of his revolvers with interchangeable parts. A variety of industries adopted and adapted these techniques over the next several decades, and Hartford became the center of production for a wide array of products, including: Colt, Richard Gatling, and John Browning firearms; Weed sewing machines; Royal and Underwood typewriters; Columbia bicycles; and Pope automobiles.
The Pratt & Whitney Company was founded in Hartford in 1860 by Francis A. Pratt and Amos Whitney. They built a substantial factory in which the company manufactured a wide range of machine tools, including tools for the makers of sewing machines, and gun-making machinery for use by the Union Army during the American Civil War. In 1925, the company expanded into aircraft engine design at its Hartford factory.
Just three years after Colt's first factory opened, the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company set up shop in 1852 at a nearby site along the now-buried Park River, located in the present-day neighborhood of Frog Hollow. Their factory heralded the beginning of the area's transformation from marshy farmland into a major industrial zone. The road leading from town to the factory was called Rifle Lane; the name was later changed to College Street and then Capitol Avenue. A century earlier, mills had located along the Park River because of the water power, but by the 1850s water power was approaching obsolescence. Sharps located there specifically to take advantage of the railroad line that had been constructed alongside the river in 1838.
The Sharps Rifle Company failed in 1870, and the Weed Sewing Machine Company took over its factory. The invention of a new type of sewing machine led to a new application of mass production after the principles of interchangeability were applied to clocks and guns. The Weed Company played a major role in making Hartford one of three machine tool centers in New England and even outranked the Colt Armory in nearby Coltsville in size. Weed eventually became the birthplace of both the bicycle and automobile industries in Hartford.
Industrialist Albert Pope was inspired by a British-made, high-wheeled bicycle (called a velocipede) that he saw at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, and he bought patent rights for bicycle production in the United States. He wanted to contract out his first order, however, so he approached George Fairfield of Weed Sewing Machine Company, who produced Pope's first run of bicycles in 1878. Bicycles proved to be a huge commercial success, and production expanded in the Weed factory, with Weed making every part but the tires. Demand for bicycles overshadowed the failing sewing machine market by 1890, so Pope bought the Weed factory, took over as its president, and renamed it the Pope Manufacturing Company. The bicycle boom was short-lived, peaking near the turn of the century when more and more consumers craved individual automobile travel, and Pope's company suffered financially from over-production amidst falling demand.
In an effort to save his business, Pope opened a motor carriage department and turned out electric carriages, beginning with the "Mark III" in 1897. His venture might have made Hartford the capital of the automobile industry were it not for the ascendancy of Henry Ford and a series of pitfalls and patent struggles that outlived Pope himself.
In 1876, Hartford Machine Screw was granted a charter "for the purpose of manufacturing screws, hardware and machinery of every variety." The basis for its incorporation was the invention of the first single-spindle automatic screw machine. For its next four years, the new firm occupied one of Weed's buildings, milling thousands of screws daily on over 50 machines. Its president was George Fairfield, who ran Weed, and its superintendent was Christopher Spencer, one of Connecticut's most versatile inventors. Soon Hartford Machine Screw outgrew its quarters and built a new factory adjacent to Weed, where it remained until 1948.
On the week of April 12, 1909, the Connecticut River reached a record flood stage of 24.5 feet (7.47 meters) above the low water mark, flooding the city of Hartford and doing great damage. On July 6, 1944, Hartford was the scene of one of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States. Claiming the lives of 168 persons, mostly children and their mothers and injuring several hundred more. It occurred at a matinee performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus on Barbour Street in the city's north end and became known tragically as the Hartford Circus Fire.
After World War II, many residents of Puerto Rico moved to Hartford. Starting in the late 1950s, the suburbs ringing Hartford began to grow and flourish and the capital city began a long decline. Insurance giant Connecticut General (now CIGNA) moved to a new, modern campus in the suburb of Bloomfield. Constitution Plaza had been hailed as a model of urban renewal, but it gradually became a concrete office park. Once-flourishing department stores shut down, such as Brown Thomson, Sage-Allen, and G. Fox & Co., as suburban malls grew in popularity, such as Westfarms and Buckland Hills.
In 1997, the city lost its professional hockey franchise, with the Hartford Whalers moving to Raleigh, North Carolina—despite an increase in season ticket sales and an offer from the state for a new arena. In 2005, a developer from Newton, Massachusetts tried unsuccessfully to bring an NHL team back to Hartford and house them in a new, publicly funded stadium.
Hartford experienced problems as the population shrank 11 percent during the 1990s. Only Flint, Michigan, Gary, Indiana, St. Louis, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland experienced larger population losses during the decade. However, the population has increased since the 2000 Census.
In 1987, Carrie Saxon Perry was elected mayor of Hartford, the first female African-American mayor of a major American city. Riverfront Plaza was opened in 1999, connecting the riverfront and the downtown area for the first time since the 1960s.
In 2004, Underground Coalition, a Connecticut hip hop promotion company, produced the First Annual Hartford Hip Hop Festival, which also took place at Adriaen's Landing. The event drew over 5,000 fans.
A significant number of cultural events and performances take place every year at Mortensen Plaza (Riverfront Recapture Organization) by the banks of the Connecticut River. These events are held outdoors and include live music, festivals, dance, arts and crafts. Hartford also has a vibrant theater scene with major Broadway productions at the Bushnell Theater as well as performances at the Hartford Stage and Theaterworks (City Arts).
In July 2017, Hartford considering filing Chapter 9 bankruptcy, but a state bailout later that year kept the city from filing for bankruptcy.
As of the census of 2010, there were 124,775 people, 44,986 households, and 27,171 families residing in the city. The population density was 7,025.5 people per square mile (2,711.8/km2). There were 50,644 housing units at an average density of 2,926.5 per square mile (1,129.6/km2).
The racial makeup of the city was 29.8% white, 38.7% African American or Black, 0.6% Native American, 2.8% Asian, 0% Pacific Islander, 23.9% from other races, and 4.2% from two or more races. 43.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino, chiefly of Puerto Rican origin, up from 32% in 1990.Whites not of Latino background were 15.8% of the population in 2010, down from 63.9% in 1970.
The Hispanic population is concentrated on the south side, while African Americans are concentrated in the north. The white population is in the majority in only two census tracts: the downtown area and the far northwest. Many areas in the middle of the city, in Asylum Hill, and in West End, have a significant white population. More than three-quarters (77%) of the Hispanic population was Puerto Rican (with more than half born on the island of Puerto Rico) and fully 33.7% of all Hartford residents claimed Puerto Rican heritage. This is the second-largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the Northeast, behind only Holyoke, Massachusetts, approximately 30 miles (48 km) to the north along the Connecticut River.
There are small but recognizable concentrations of persons with origins in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic as well. Among the non-Hispanic population, the largest ancestry group is people from Jamaica; in 2014, Hartford was home to an estimated 11,400 Jamaicans, as well as another 1,200 people who are simply identified as West Indian Americans.
There were 44,986 households, out of which 34.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 25.2% were married couples living together, 29.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.6% were non-families. 33.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.58 and the average family size was 3.33.
In the city, the population distribution skews young: 30.1% under the age of 18, 12.6% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 18.0% from 45 to 64, and 9.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $20,820, and the median income for a family was $22,051. Males had a median income of $28,444 versus $26,131 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,428.
At the American Community Survey's 2018 estimates, the population increased to 122,591. From 2014 to 2018 there were 53,890 housing units, 46,072 households, and 26,233 families within Hartford. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 3.35.
Hartford's racial makeup was 12.7% non-Hispanic white, 36.1% Black or African American, 2.3% Asian, 0.4% from some other race, 2.9% from two or more races, and 45.4% Hispanic or Latino of any race. The city's Hispanic and Latin American populace primarily consisted of Puerto Ricans (34.7%), Dominicans (2.6%), Mexicans (1.8%), Cubans (0.5%), and other Hispanic or Latinos at 5.1%.
The city of Hartford's median household income was $30,444, and the mean income was $48,318.
Hartford has been home to many historically significant people, such as dictionary author Noah Webster (1758–1843), inventor Sam Colt (1814–62), and American financier and industrialist J.P. Morgan (1837–1913).
Some of America's most famous authors lived in Hartford, including Mark Twain (1835–1910), who moved to the city in 1874. Twain's next-door neighbor at Nook Farm was Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–96). Poet Wallace Stevens (1879–1955) was an insurance executive in the city, and World War II correspondent Lyn Crost (1915–97) lived there. More recently, Dominick Dunne (1925–2009), John Gregory Dunne (1932–2003), and Suzanne Collins (born 1962) have resided in Hartford.
Actors and others in the entertainment business from Hartford include Katharine Hepburn, Thomas Ian Griffith, Gary Merrill, Linda Evans, Eriq La Salle, Diane Venora, William Gillette, Grace Carney, and Charles Nelson Reilly, and TV producer and writer Norman Lear. Marvel Comics artist George Tuska grew up in Hartford. Additionally, the fictional characters of Richard and Emily Gilmore were said to reside in Hartford on the Gilmore Girls.
Barbara McClintock (1902–1992), pioneering cytogeneticist was born in Hartford, CT. She was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the breakthrough discovery of genetic transposition. She is the only woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in the Medicine category.
Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, mother of president Theodore Roosevelt and paternal grandmother of Eleanor Roosevelt, was born in Hartford on July 8, 1835.
Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), considered the father of the profession of Landscape Architecture, was born in Hartford. Among his designs are New York's Central Park, 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and Asheville's Biltmore Estate. Other projects that Olmsted was involved in include the country's first and oldest coordinated system of public parks and parkways in Buffalo, New York; the country's oldest state park, the Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, New York; one of the first planned communities in the United States, Riverside, Illinois; Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Quebec; the Emerald Necklace in Boston, Massachusetts; Highland Park in Rochester, New York; Belle Isle Park, in the Detroit River for Detroit, Michigan; the Grand Necklace of Parks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Cherokee Park and entire parks and parkway system in Louisville, Kentucky.
In the field of music, natives include singer Sophie Tucker (1884–1966), "last of the red-hot mamas." Others include:
Former Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini is from Hartford. Former NHL player Craig Janney and current player Nick Bonino were born in Hartford. Other sports stars include NBA players Marcus Camby, Rick Mahorn, Johnny Egan, and Michael Adams, as well as NFL kicker John Carney, Dwight Freeney, Tebucky Jones, and Eugene Robinson.
Connecticut is an excellent place to live in general. The state has lots of outdoor recreational activities as well as plenty of opportunities for cultural entertainment. But Connecticut is also famous for its historic towns, with an impressive history that dates back to the earliest settlements in America. Geography in Connecticut also plays a large role in preserving the character of this interesting part of America.
Today Connecticut is in the center of the major urban Industrial complex, bordering Massachusetts to the southwest, Rhode Island to the northwest, Long Island Sound to the southeast and New York City to the southwest. At one time during the colonial period, the state was a sparsely populated wilderness. But, today it is one of the most densely populated states with many cities containing over a million people. Today, there are many magnificent cities in Connecticut, such as New Haven, Connecticut's largest city, which is also the home of Yale University.
Geography in Connecticut means very much more than what you might expect from a simple definition. For example, because of its location on the ocean, Connecticut is home to some of the most spectacular natural beauty in the Northeast. Because of its location at the edge of this long line of islands, New England has a long coastline and deep canyon-like canyons. Connecticut's shoreline is mostly on the Connecticut River, giving it a temperate climate year round. Geology also plays a large role in how geography relates to culture in Connecticut.
Geographically, the state's topography is marked primarily by mountainous areas. Connecticut is also home to many streams, springs and rivers. These areas have diverse soil types and minerals, creating unique microclimates. And because of these microclimates, the quality of soil is extremely varied.
In terms of growth and development, Connecticut's cities rank among the most densely populated in the United States. Although there are a few cities that have a higher population density than others, like Greenwich, Connecticut, the urban area population is less than one per cent. The cities are spread out and urban in nature. They contain a mixture of residential communities like downtown Connecticut and large suburbanized areas like Greenwich.
Connecticut towns and cities like New London, Connecticut; New Haven, Connecticut; New Milford, Connecticut and Wallingford, Connecticut are filled with history and heritage. Many of these cities were once busy fishing ports and manufacturing centers. They also once had thriving city industries, like metal works, foundries and canneries. But now they have largely succeeded in becoming more modern and centers for business, government and higher education. Many older, smaller cities along the coast have become ghost towns. A new trend in urban renewal has brought more modernization to areas like New Haven, Connecticut, but it appears that this plan will take time and may not be fully implemented.
Urban renewal in Connecticut has taken on a distinctly New England feel with new town planning and development around state colleges in Connecticut. In New Haven, the city is working on developing the docklands around the mouth of the Connecticut River. In New Milford, the city is looking to develop the southern part of what used to be farmland. The state capital, Washington, DC, is also an important part of this process as it covers much of what is currently New England.
Urban renewal in Connecticut has produced mixed results. There are areas where the growth is significant, and other places where little new development is occurring. This may be due to state budget problems or changing views on urban development in the New England states. In any case, it has been an active process and a cause for much excitement in some parts of the state.