This has the makings of a great dialog. I've been a SoCal surfer and beach boy for most of my life and never really saw a lot of high rises until I started globetrotting with my wife about a decade ago.I have to say that until I visited cities like San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, Chicago, Paris, Madrid, London and even my hometown, San Diego, just to mention a few, I never had any real appeal for metropolitan areas.
But I must say that contrary to your statement that those places aren't "particularly spectacular" I must once again disagree. I think there's something very charming, exciting and mystical about those skylines. What I didn't find particularly exciting, if not down right depressing, as I mentioned earlier, were the rows upon rows of that failed "Project" experiment which only served to turn those areas into drug and crime infested slums.
It would be very unfortunate to see those magnificent downtown skylines clustered with "urban boxes of non-descript mid-rise buildings" "with lower grade finishes" only to have them eventually become reduced once again to urban blight within a decade or so.
Additionally, I don't see mid rises being a viable let alone suitable environ for an aging population. Especially if what you're describing lends itself to lower and middle class demographics. If you really take a look at what the preferred living accommodations are for aging seniors you would discover that a single story dwelling is number one on the list. Even most of your middle to higher end retirement homes don't seem to extend more than 3 to 4 stories which is hardly a mid rise by definition.
We both know that buildings that small would never pencil in a high rise city. Having said that there is a whole industry of very beautiful high rise luxury condo's salt and peppered throughout most, if not all, of our major metropolitan areas but as we both know they cater to the more upscale and wealthy who can well afford the luxury of full time assisted care options and 2nd and 3rd homes.
Moreover I think that what might be a more preferable solution to the forthcoming entourage of aging baby boomer and beyond would be to start negotiating with the banks and builders who are sitting on mountains of shadow inventory of 1 and 2 story homes, retrofitting them to ADA compliance and turning them into non-assisted and assisted care options for the elderly and newbies.
What about infrastructure i.e. nearby medical care, rehabilitation, physical therapy and emergency facilities and services? There could be a practical and relatively easy solution. Do you realize how many half empty, if not abandoned, commercial and industrial buildings i.e. strip centers, outlet malls, empty warehouses, big box stores, etc there are scattered throughout all the ailing suburban sprawl we've managed to produce. Look at Las Vegas as an example. This would be a great place for aging seniors with their dry and sunny climate and they love those air conditioned casinos and those one armed bandits.
In my own home town alone there are three to four former wholesale warehouse complexes that sit empty not to mention myriad strip centers with 50% or less occupancy. If our city, county, state and federal governments could ever get their acts together with some sound and well grounded leadership we could become very creative very quick and start resolving some of these very soon to be realities.
Rather than tying up that precious land and billions of dollars for the next several years, if not decades, only to turn out "mid-rise buildings and offer studios/efficiencies of a few hundred square feet to the elderly and the masses of low-income, college-educated buyers", I'm all for turning the aging downtown metro areas eventually into places like beautiful Hong Kong or Singapore city scapes and night scapes. A much better ROI I feel and in all reality we're talking about the same time and not much different in cost given the overall relative cost of construction.